Arnold Schwarzenegger: Rock. Solid. Moviestar.

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I didn’t realize it until very recently, but I am without question a huge Arnold Schwarzenegger fan. I could give two squirts what the man’s political policies are now that he’s the Governor of California. What interests me about Arnold isn’t his post-film life; it’s what he contributed to American popular film before he decided to, you know, help the people of California (I would argue he was helping the world by starring in action movies, but I’m also extremely shallow).

How I came to this realization is as important as the realization itself, since I was once firmly within the camp of people who thought Arnie was just some random action hero, who was OK, but not really that impressive. However, over the last little while it’s become increasingly apparent that I’m way more into Arnold Schwarzenegger than I would have previously admitted to. The reasons are varied, of course, since in spite of what a lot of people might think, Arnold is actually a fairly nuanced actor when it comes to the action genre.

The reasons – see you at the party, Richter

  1. In terms of physique, Arnold is the ideal action star. All muscle and braun. He’s a tough guy, and I’d say that’s exactly what you want your action movie star to be.
  2. Having said that, Arnold’s also not some airheaded moron. The characters he plays are general pretty sharp. Whether he’s a soldier, a cop, or a cybernetic organism with the ability to learn, Arnold plays smart characters — but not so over-the-top as to be completely unbelievable.
  3. He seems to approach character development with at least some consideration — which is more than can be said for a lot of action stars. Consider the Terminator he played in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Sure, he was an emotionless drone and I’ll accept that many of his lines were silly one-liners, but he definitely brought dimension to a literally robotic character.

Like so many people of my generation, my first exposure to Arnold was well past his role as Conan the Barbarian. I was born at the very beginning of the ’80s, so naturally my introduction to Arnold (and other awesome action film stars) started with The Terminator. I was pretty young when I first saw it, and found it to be a rally scary movie. And I’ll say this: there wasn’t a lot for Arnold to do in this film except act like a machine — which he did well.

Arnold sits in a mind-erasing chair in Total Recall

The Terminator didn’t really drive the point home for me when it came to Arnold’s acting prowess. And in subsequent roles when Arnold played all-American GI-type characters, he seemed mostly disingenuous — I mean honestly, what does this massive Austrian body builder have to do with American patriotism (don’t worry, the irony of saying that isn’t lost of me given Arnold’s current role)?

In fact, to examine any one role exclusively as evidence of Arnold’s skill as an action star is an exercise in futility. You have to take the entire Schwarznegger cannon to really get it. Having said that, however, there is one role Arnold took on that to me proved he knows exactly what he’s doing in action movies, he knows exactly the kind of actor he is and the limits to his skill (ie, you wouldn’t expect the man to take on a role like Jack from Brokeback Mountain, nor would you see any self-respecting director making him that offer), and he’s good. A solid action star.

That movie is True Lies.

Even with Tom Arnold, a good movie

True Lies is a film about an American spy, played by Arnold, who’s been deceiving his bored housewife for years about the true nature of his work. When she gets mixed up in all of his crazy business and discovers the truth, their relationship is changed forever — and that’s just the Reader’s Digest condensed version of the synopsis. What winds of happening is we’re presented with a nuanced, comedic role played masterfully by Arnold. He’s not trying to convey anything terribly complex, and certainly the movie is very over the top, but it’s so well done, so convincing and so exciting — as far as action movies go — that I think it’s a clear demonstration of Arnold’s abilities as an actor; not an amazing actor, mind you, but a competent one whose domination of the action genre isn’t only because he has colossal muscles.

True Lies is hilarious, action-packed, and even sweet at times. Bill Paxton’s even in it, reprising his role as a terrified colonial marine who pisses his pants at the first sign of trouble (I’m joking, of course. He plays himself. Seriously, you should see this movie).

I know I’m not making a super-solid case, but…

There’s really no more powerful way to convince you than for you to take a walk through Arnold’s filmography, even some of his cheesier work (I recommend Total Recall if you like action-packed sci fi and Sharon Stone). Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn’t won any Oscars, but he’s a solid, reliable and talented actor in the over-the-top action genre. And he’s one of my favourite actors.

Useful Arnold links

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