Career Prospectus: Halle Berry
Click here for the previous two installments of the Career Prospectus series. Halle Berry is the latest feature, in response to a request submitted by Amy:
Can we get analysis on Halle Berry's career? She was in fantastic movies pre-Oscar, but I can't think of a decent role since other than Cloud Atlas. Does she make poor choices? Are people not interested? Is she too crazy on set? Is it a race thing? I figured she transcended that, though. I don't think it's a talent thing, either, b/c she obviously has enough to get her to Monster's Ball. What's the deal?
I think the first thing we need to address is that “she was in fantastic movies pre-Oscar”. First, Berry’s Oscar win for Monster’s Ball is a milestone, but when I think of her career, her breakout wasn’t just the Oscar—it was the entire run of 2000-2002. She had a string of high-profile projects launching her in the mainstream (X-Men, Die Another Day and Swordfish, which sucked, but for which she got that famous $500,000 bonus for taking her top off), combined with the Oscar win in 2002. It was the one-two punch of mainstream acceptance and artistic validation, and 2000-2002 represents the before and after line in her career.
The second thing we’ve got to talk about are those “fantastic movies”. She was in two memorable movies pre-2000: Introducing Dorothy Dandridge and Bulworth, with Losing Isaiah being a good performance in an okay movie. The first half of Berry’s career is not particularly distinguished. In fact, she starred in one of the stupidest, most offensive pieces of drivel I’ve ever seen, B.A.P.S. But it didn’t get any better after she won the Oscar. In fact, most of her worst movies came after the Oscar win (Gothika, Catwoman, Frankie & Alice, New Year’s Eve, and 2012’s straight-to-DVD-with-a-0%-rating Dark Tide). I object to the notion that Berry’s career was ever all that stellar.
Which isn’t to say that she is purely cashing in, making dumb sh*t strictly for paychecks. The pre-2000 portion of her career was hobbled by a system skewed against actresses of color. Her choices weren’t as broad before mainstream acceptance came along and opened up some more doors. Not that she should necessarily be faulted for selling out when she did attain mainstream success. She cashes in A LOT (see also: New Year’s Eve, The Call, that tit-bonus for Swordfish), but again, her resume has always been more commercial fare than prestige projects. I’m not sure she really has anything to sell out. And at least one of those crappy paycheck movies has to count as combat pay for B.A.P.S.
Berry’s career is something of a study in frustration, though, because she isn’t without talent—Monster’s Ball, Dorothy Dandridge and Losing Isaiah proves she can pull out all the stops and deliver. She just doesn’t follow through on the promise enough to be a generational talent. She kind of reminds of Nicolas Cage in that respect. There’s a laziness to the choices she makes, but then every once in a while she has a light bulb moment that reminds us not to write her off completely. I don’t hold the weakness of her early resume against her because opportunities were thin on the ground and you take the work you can get when it’s offered, but eleven years on from her Oscar win, she should have accomplished more.
Which brings us to the consistent problem with Halle Berry: She’s a walking tabloid headline.
While it’s undeniable that race played a part in shaping her early career, Berry has long since transcended that issue. She’s one of the most famous women in the world with one of the most widely recognizable faces and is a world-renowned beauty. Combined with the prestige of an Oscar and the visibility that projects like the X-Men franchise and being a Bond girl gives her, the opportunities are there. If her early career can be defined in terms of her race, her post-2002 career has to be defined in terms of her tabloid presence. There are the hit and runs, her horrible taste in men, and more recently, her bitter and highly divisive custody battle—Halle Berry is, not unlike Angelina Jolie, practically a tabloid cottage industry. But where Angelina continues to earn good reviews as an actress, has branched out into filmmaking, and has transformed her public persona through dedication to charitable causes, Berry has been reduced purely to being a celebrity. Her acting career is secondary to all the other crazy sh*t going on in her life.
Berry has overcome and accomplished a lot. But she’s also demonstrated consistently poor taste when choosing projects and she can’t seem to get out of her own way. Her life has become such a spectacle that it’s overtaken her persona as an actress, and she’s made so many bad movies audiences don’t trust her. But her career isn’t unsalvageable. She just needs the right project to reassert herself.
Cloud Atlas had the feel of a comeback of sorts for Berry—if it had been a hit, even just critically, it could have gone a long way to putting Halle Berry, Actress, back on track. But it divided critics and tanked at the box office and will end up being a curious blip on her career radar. But she isn’t done trying—clearly, Berry is working on her career. She’ll be in the next X-Men movie, which will give her a bump in the mainstream, and she’s got a couple character-driven projects in the works, one with John Singleton and another based on a true story about a woman who had her sixth-grade class help her try to get elected. So she’s taking the right steps toward living up to those Oscar expectations. It’s just a matter of if she gets lucky and one of the projects takes, and if her reputation as an actress can be rescued from the tabloid mess of her life. And if she can hold off on cashing in on easy paycheck deal to make some crappy action film.
I don’t think Halle Berry has the taste or artistic wherewithal to be one of the leading talents of her generation. After her landmark Oscar win everyone expected her to be the female Denzel—a black actress widely accepted in the mainstream, who transcends race and is popular as an entertainer and as an artist. And maybe she could have been that. Maybe she should have been that. But she makes too many sh*tty movies.
And on that note here’s Halle at the premiere of The Call earlier this week.