“Waiting for the Barbarians,” with an impressive cast including Robert Pattinson, Johnny Depp and Oscar winner Mark Rylance,, is available Friday on VOD. Based on the 1980 novel by J. M. Coetzee (who also adapted the screenplay) the film focuses on an unnamed Magistrate (Rylance) of a frontier settlement whose life is uprooted by the arrival of Colonel Joll (Depp) who, ostensibly sent to keep the peace, ends up destroying it. Pattinson plays Joll’s hardened righthand man, the sort who views empathy as a weakness.
It’s only one of three films Pattinson is set to appear in before the year is over, along with roles in Christopher Nolan’s hotly anticipated and oft-delayed “Tenet” and Antonio Campos’ “The Devil All the Time” and yet another fascinating choice for the actor who regularly seeks out challenging projects and has quietly established himself as a compelling actor and chameleon in roles of all sizes.
Though he broke through in blockbusters like the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” series, Pattinson almost seems to eschew mainstream entertainment, pursuing lesser-known filmmakers whose work intrigues him and jumping into films made under less than glamorous conditions. In fact, it was somewhat surprising when he was announced to be starring as the Caped Crusader in Matt Reeves’ “The Batman,” even though he perfectly fits the bill/cowl.
As a result, his career has proven to be one of the most fascinating to watch over the years; one would say he enjoys being cast again type, but there really isn’t a Robert Pattinson type – you’d be hard pressed to find Winslow from “The Lighthouse” sharing much in common with the Dauphin of France from “The King.” We took a look at Pattinson’s career up to this point, picking his ten best film performances.
10. COSMOPOLIS (2012)
The first of Pattinson’s collaborations with David Cronenberg (he also appeared in the 2014 “Maps to the Stars”) this compact little thriller was early evidence of Pattinson’s willingness to commit to a role no matter how weird it gets. In this case, that included Pattinson’s billionaire Eric Packer receiving a prostate exam while still talking business and never leaving his luxury limousine. Adapted from the Don DeLillo novel and set in one day where the asset manager watches as he loses his fiancée and a large part of his fortune, the film is a slow burn that doesn’t work for everyone but Pattinson commands the screen for the entire running time. He expertly plays cool on the outside while unraveling inside, a skill that would continue to serve him in his career. (Available on Amazon Prime)
9.TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN PART I (2011)
Skeptics can grumble all they want but there’s a reason the “Twilight” films made stars of its two leads and a reason Pattinson beat out countless others for the coveted role. And for those who dismiss the quality of the filmmaking – all the more reason to appreciate the actors who have to pull off some whoppers of storylines. While he spends most of the previous three films downcast and dour, “Breaking Dawn” is where vampire Edward Cullen gets to come into his own. He marries the love of his life (death?), becomes a father and, at the end, loses his beloved wife. The scene where he does everything he can to revive Bella, including biting her to pass on his venom, is full of grief and fury and marks some of his best work in the entire saga. (Available on Hulu)
8.THE ROVER (2014)
Pattinson’s first film after the “Twilight” series left no doubt the actor wasn’t going to play it safe. Director David Michôd’s brutal drama is set in a bleak dystopian future (is there any other kind?) where Australia has been reduced to a desert wasteland. Guy Pearce plays Eric, a man whose car is stolen by a trio of fugitives and who will spare no cost to get it back. Accompanying him is Pattinson’s Rey, the brother of one of the fugitives who was left behind for dead. Rey is childlike in many ways and prone to stuttering and tics, but Pattinson never sacrifices believability for showmanship. (Available on Hulu)
7.HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (2005)
It’s not a huge part, but an important one. Cedric Diggory is Hogwarts’ champion: handsome, popular, athletic … in theory he should annoy you with his perfection. But Cedric is also kind, wise and noble. Even Harry Potter, who sees him as a rival for both Cho Chang and the Triwizard Tournament, can’t help but like the guy. Pattinson shows up for his first major film role more than up to the task of embodying this hero with an easygoing charm. When he gives Harry a tip on a clue with a warm smile, the audience falls as hard for him as Moaning Myrtle. Director Mike Newell knew he needed an actor who could earn the audience’s affection with a minimal amount of screen time so that when he is killed, it breaks our hearts. And Pattinson’s performances leaves Cedric’s memory resonating throughout the rest of the series (Available on HBO Max)
6.HIGH LIFE (2019)
Continuing his habit of challenging, divisive work with auteurs, Pattinson took the lead in Claire Denis’ English-language debut. Equal parts confounding and sublime, the film follows a group of Death Row inmates sent into space to extract energy from a black hole. This being both a space movie and a Denis film, nothing good is bound to happen, and soon there is murder, suicide and even spaghettification. Pattinson’s Monte is not like the others though – for one, his crime was killing the person who murdered his dog (again, Pattinson and dogs don’t mix). He’s also deliberately celibate, the only passenger to not use the so-called “f–k box” on the ship. But that doesn’t stop Juliette Binoche’s obsessed Dr. Dibs from sedating and raping Monte, resulting in a child. Pattinson’s scenes with his daughter are as powerful as those he has alone, talking to himself. And though the film is told in fragments, jumping around in time, it’s Pattinson’s performance that keeps it on course. (Available for rent on all platforms)
At long last, Pattinson signs up to do a full-fledged comedy. Of course being Pattinson, it’s an offbeat, weird little comedy that also happens to be a feminist Western. Set in the 1870s, Pattinson is Samuel Alabaster, the naïve, lovesick suitor searching for his beloved Penelope (Mia Wasikowska) who has been taken prisoner. With a preacher named Henry and an adorable miniature horse named Butterscotch in tow, Samuel sets out on a journey full of unexpected, often absurdist turns. It might be one of Pattinson’s most joyous performances, and the actor proves he can play bright-eyed as well as he plays brooding. David and Nathan Zellner’s film revels in undercutting Western tropes and conventions, showing that not every damsel wants to be saved. (Available on Hulu)
4.THE KING (2019)
Sporting long, flowing locks and a French accent that is either ridiculous or brilliant (or both), Pattinson shows up as the Dauphin of France in the final third of this retelling of the young Henry V’s rise to power. One assumes Pattinson did the small role as a favor to director David Michôd, the director of “The Rover,” but it’s really a gift to the audience; an injection of pure fun. And you can tell the actor is having a blast, taunting Timothee Chalamet’s Prince Hal’s with insults about his genitalia that are basic schoolyard jabs, yet all the more effective with a French accent. “Pretty much in ways that I fully 100% endorse and love, that character is a Robert Pattinson creation,” Michôd told Variety. “The great fear always is that you end up with ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ and ridiculous French accents. But at the same time, I kind of needed his character to be kind of absurd.” (Available on Netflix)
3.THE LOST CITY OF Z (2016)
Pattinson fares well in films about obsession, a perfect example being James Gray’s epic tale of British office Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) searching for an ancient city in the Brazilian jungle. Pattinson plays his loyal aide de camp, Corporal Henry Costin, who repeatedly rescues Fawcett without fanfare; he doesn’t even need to stand to save Fawcett from a mutinous crew member. It’s a strong supporting turn that reminds you he may be a leading man, but he’s also a great character actor. While similarly obsessed and driven, Costin is able to walk away from finding answers by the end, telling Fawcett “I can no longer bear the cost.” And it’s a choice that likely saved his life. (Available on Amazon Prime)
2.THE LIGHTHOUSE (2019)
When your film is a two-man show and the other actor is Willem Dafoe, you better bring your A game. Pattinson did that and more, fully throwing himself into the role of a junior lighthouse keeper descending into madness when locked up on a tiny island with a demanding, flatulent boss. Singing sea shanties with abandon, never dropping his Maine accent, and sporting impressive facial hair, Pattinson commits to the darkness and even finds the humor in the role. A fan of Robert Eggers’ “The Witch,” Pattinson personally reached out to the filmmaker about a collaboration and one hopes he has found a partner he’ll return to again and again, as the director pushes his actor to go for broke, quite literally spilling his guts on screen. (Available on Amazon Prime)
1.GOOD TIME (2016)
A perfectly calibrated performance, Pattinson called up all the talent, charm, risk-taking and commitment seen in his previous work to bring the role of bank robber Connie Nikas to life for Josh and Benny Safdie’s unnerving, relentless thriller. There are shades of the cold determination seen in “Cosmopolis” when Connie takes his developmentally slow brother Nick (played by Benny Safdie) out of a therapy session to help him with a robbery. The charm of Cedric Diggory is on display as he sweet talks both his girlfriend and a stranger he meets on a bus for help. And the single-minded determination that turns to desperation as things unravel that paints so many of his characters is all on full display as Connie’s night on the run unravels. Pattinson also gets to display his often underutilized comedic skills; his reaction to seeing his face on the news while watching TV with the granddaughter of the stranger who has taken him in is a laugh-out-loud moment. (Available on Netflix)