In Admiration of Ethan Hawke, Action Hero

Last week I watched First Reformed, the new film from Paul Schrader starring Ethan Hawke. It’s a remarkable film, it’s going to be one of my favorites of the year and it’s anchored by an Oscar-worthy performance by Hawke. Wanting to keep the Hawke high I was on going, the next night I hopped on Netflix and watched his most recent action film 24 Hours to Live. I thought First Reformed was going to be the best Ethan Hawke film I watched that week. I was wrong. I’ve always liked watching Ethan Hawke no matter the genre of the film or the quality of it, and that’s a great thing to find in an actor. He’s great in horror films (Sinister, The Purge), Oscar tier films (The Before Trilogy, First Reformed, Boyhood (ugh)) and in one of the greatest films ever made (Training Day). But there is one genre that he goes supremely underappreciated in, and that is the action genre.

Over this past decade, Ethan Hawke has really delved into a lot of genre films, and the great thing about him is that he takes them just as professionally and seriously as he would a dramatic film. He’s never looking down on these genre films as less than, he’s fully committed to them. He’s kind of like Liam Neeson, where he just brings this instant gravitas to the material and a real sense of urgency to the dialogue, and the fact that he’s an unlikely choice for an action hero that ends up making perfect sense. We’ve only gotten two true action films from Hawke, 2013’s Getaway and 2017’s 24 Hours to Live. But it’s clear from just two action films, we need more. Daybreakers, The Magnificent Seven and In a Valley of Violence are ancillary options for Action Ethan Hawke if you’re really tweaking for some.

The first line Ethan Hawke has in Getaway is when he answers the phone and immediately growls into it “WHERE’S MY WIFE???!!!” which is how you immediately know this is a great film. And then to make it even better, Hawke’s character’s name is Brent Magna, which is a top tier action hero name. Just say it outloud. Brent Magna. God, that feels just good to say. Getaway follows Magna, who must drive and do whatever a mysterious man over the phone tells him in order to save his kidnapped wife. I was sold on Ethan Hawke as an action hero almost immediately, he was just fully committed to the inherent lunacy of this film.

One of my favorite things about 24 Hours to Live is it falls into that category of action films where I can’t describe the plot to anybody because I don’t know what was going on the whole time. As far as I could tell, 24 Hours to Live follows assassin Travis Conrad (Hawke) who gets killed and then resurrected and only has 24 hours to live (duh) and get revenge. But again, I can’t be certain because I had no clue what was happening at any given plot point. Anyways, 24 Hours to Live a truly batshit insane delight. And going back to how Hawke commits to the film and the role no matter what, Hawke is doing a surprising amount of the stunts and fight choreography in this film himself. That’s seriously impressive, especially for an actor whose background is absent of those kinds of things. I always place high value on an actor doing their own stunts and choreography, that’s how you know that they’ve got what it takes to be a viable action hero. Watching this film, I just didn’t know beforehand that Hawke was capable of doing action like this. He’s doing them in long takes too, he’s not hiding any deficiencies in quick cuts. He’s doing grade A action work in a B film.

And that’s the point here, he’s taking action seriously and not slouching off and letting the stunt doubles and quick edits do the work for him. He’s rising to the occasion and elevating the film around him. Just watching these two films, I just wondered why we had to wait so long for an action film with him, he just takes to it so naturally. The bottom line is, we need more Ethan Hawke action films. Me and my buddy Huston want him to have his own John Wick moment where he just takes over the action hero spotlight while showcasing his previously unknown chops for the genre. I’m ready for it. Put a gun in Ethan Hawke’s hands, place some baddies in front of him and let him show us what we’ve been missing out on this whole time.

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