Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Chris Penn (1965-2006)

Chris Penn (often credited as Christopher) seemed to live in the shadow of his more acclaimed acting brother Sean (though to Chris' credit he never exhibited a lack of a sense of humor, married Madonna or starred in I Am Sam. Still, despite his young death (some sources say he was 40, others 43) and unfulfilled potential, it's worth looking back at some of Chris Penn's most memorable performances.

Footloose (1984): Penn was the crucial element in what may be the film's best sequence as Kevin Bacon tries to teach Penn's geeky teen how to dance as "Let's Hear It for the Boy" plays on the soundtrack.

The Wild Life (1984): Many dismissed Penn's character of Tom Drake as a lesser attempt to equal brother Sean's brilliant Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. While both films boasted a script by Cameron Crowe, The Wild Life is nowhere near as good as the other film, but Penn brings a lot of fun nuances to Tom Drake.

Reservoir Dogs (1992): Nice Guy Eddie arguably is the best work Chris Penn ever put on screen, handling Quentin Tarantino's dialogue with ease and excellence, especially in the scene where he doubts the accusation that the late Mr. Blond (Michael Madsen) was the rat.

Short Cuts (1993): Part of Robert Altman's strong ensemble in this blending of Raymond Carver short stories, Penn is quietly powerful as the husband of Jennifer Jason Leigh, a phone sex worker. When Penn's character does snap, it seems both unexpected and completely preordained at the same time.

Penn made other movies I saw (Pale Rider, Rumble Fish, True Romance), but he didn't really register in them for me. These are the four performances that stand out for me. It's a shame we won't see more and that his career never really took off.

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It's always sad to see someone die so young. With actors, there's an additional feeling: although we don't know them as well as the people we know, we feel we know them more than the people we don't.
I felt really bad for him when the AOL welcome screen said "Sean Penn's brother dies." Maybe I'm weird but I hadn't thought much about him being Sean Penn's brother since the "Footloose" days. They looked quite a bit alike then but as they grew older Chris filled out while Sean stayed lean and sinewy. Chris Penn was a very different type of actor with his own energy.

I thought of "Short Cuts" right away. That was a really great performance.
We will miss you at the Third Street Promenade.
He was a real sweetheart on At Close Range (i worked on 2nd unit). I posted about his quarry dive a couple weeks ago, after finding some really nice pictures of Chris. I have more that I'm going to put up. He was in awesome shape then!
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