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When you're a handsome actor you can accomplish pretty much anything, whether you're George Clooney and his air of international class or Bruce Willis, with a steely glare that could kill you. But if you're labeled a "pretty boy" first? Forget it-- that's a hole you're going to spend your entire life climbing out of. Just ask Brad Pitt, who's spend 20 years trying to be taken seriously and may have only finally achieved it this year. The newest victim of the pretty-boy trap? Why, it's Channing Tatum of course.
The title of this article is "Hear Me Out"-- the first in what we're planning as a series of seemingly crazy arguments-- and we mean what we say. I know you think Channing Tatum is just a hunk of meat with barely two brain cells to put together. I know you've seen him in G.I. Joe or Dear John or Step Up and thought, "Not only is he untalented, but he's got terrible taste in movies too." But odds are good you also haven't seen a lot of these movies, or at least gone into them willing to be pleasantly surprised. On the surface and in reality, a lot of Channing Tatum's movies-- Fighting, Dear John, The Dilemma-- have been awful. But it's what he brings to them that counts.
Whether it's an unexpected comedic cameo like his role in last year's otherwise miserable The Dilemma, or surprisingly solid leading man work in middling stuff like The Eagle or Fighting, Tatum commits himself to his work every time, whether the material merits it or not. In The Dilemma he's comfortable enough with his beefcake persona to cut loose and play a complete lunkhead, irrationally attached to his fish and carrying on an affair with Winona Ryder that any idiot could tell was over. That same year he led The Eagle-- an OK movie by the nicest definition-- with heroic resolve and a commitment to the character that keeps the story afloat well after the movie should have fallen apart. You can see something like The Dilemma and come away saying "Well, at least Channing Tatum's scenes were good," or see him in a searing drama like Stop/Loss and realize, "Oh wait, this guy is actually really talented." That's how it happened for me, at least-- seeing Tatum steal scenes from every single one of his Stop-Loss co-stars marked him as a real talent, and even though his movies since then have sometimes been a slog, he almost always follows through on that promise.
Tatum isn't usually the guy you leave the theater raving about, even in his best scene-stealing roles, and you can't argue that his low-key work is always planned-- even I'm not crazy enough to think he's the best actor working today. But he's got a gentle, up-for-anything spirit that seems to translate into all of his films, giving his characters the kind of inherent likability that no actor can fully fake. Steven Soderbergh takes great advantage of it in Haywire, casting Tatum as a rival spy to our heroine Gina Carano, a guy who is working against her but, in one crucial moment, is still sympathetic. It's the first of three films Soderbergh and Tatum will work on together, which ought to be evidence enough that Tatum has a ton of untapped potential. Look at the work Soderbergh has done with the likes of Matt Damon, Benicio del Toro, and even Julia Roberts to make them seem more talented than ever. The guy clearly knows what he's looking for in an actor, and with Tatum, he's found it once again.
You don't have to rent the Step Up movies or even go see The Vow to hear me out on this Tatum thing. All I'm asking is that you give him a shot, especially since with Haywire, 21 Jump Street and Magic MIke coming out this year, he looks to have an awesome 2012 ahead of him. Instead of going into 21 Jump Street dreading that hunky dude and his boring face again, open yourself up to the possibility of him surprising you, or living up to expectations once you actually allow him to. Sure, he's a pretty boy-- but after nearly half a decade of solid work, he's a pretty boy who deserves a chance.