A few weeks ago, Van Halen released a new album featuring David Lee Roth as its lead singer. After a 29-year absence following the band’s 1984 album, frontman Roth returns on A Different Kind of Truth to fulfill every musical wish I’ve had since he left, when I was still in grade school. Through all those years of Sammy Hagar singing fey love ballads and bland rockers, I never thought I’d see the day that Roth and the brothers VH would put out new music. A few weeks before they released the new album, an even more unexpected return came to be…
Wes Bentley, you’re back!
Good to see you again, Wes! How have you been, man? And more importantly, where the Hell have you been?
Let’s reminisce a little, Wes, go all the way back to when you and I first met. It was 1999, I was in a theatre with X, and you were on the screen. You played Ricky Fitts, the weirdo next door neighbor kid who filmed a dead bird and a balloon to perfection in AMERICAN BEAUTY, and I wondered what projects would follow for you. The film was a huge hit and an Oscar darling, and your performance had people touting you as an up-and-coming star. And hey, your character had an awesome conversation with Kevin Spacey’s about RE-ANIMATOR. Something you never saw in Best Pictures GANDHI or THE LAST EMPEROR.
So the rest of America and me waited for your next big thing. And we kept waiting. And after a long while waiting, we moved on to whichever young actor was the next “big thing to be.” Not that you fell totally out of sight. The next time you and I crossed paths was when I saw you in Hollywood Video, on the DVD box of SOUL SURVIVORS. I gotta admit, Wes, it seemed like you were slumming. I was so upset for you on this downward career turn, two years after you had the Oscar glow of AMERICAN BEAUTY, that I did you a favor and didn’t rent it.
Over the next decade or so, your name popped up infrequently. But just frequently enough to keep my interest piqued. The remake of THE FOUR FEATHERS gave you a good lead role and had you act off Heath Ledger, another up-and-comer. Between him and Kate Hudson, you were firmly ensconced in Oscar-caliber talent. But potential audiences likely saw it as a stuffy drama, and it got killed at the box office. You showed up in the gigantic blockbuster GHOST RIDER, but everybody talked about Nicholas Cage and Eva Mendes, and nobody mentioned you. I can’t stand Cage, certainly not as a middle aged man portraying the young punk rebel from the comics, so I never saw it. P2 got some buzz on the interweb horror sites, and your name was being touted again… and then you were in DOLAN’S CADILLAC. I have to thank Netflix for the Instant Stream of the film jamming on me about 25 minutes in, and I never went back. JONAH HEX? Ouch.
And then I headed out to the movies a few weeks ago, and boy was I in for a surprise. I went into watching UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING cold, with no idea what the film’s plot was, and less than zero knowledge that you were in it. But there you were, in a brief cameo as Antigen Scientist. Sure, you didn’t last long against Kate Beckinsale, and you’re not even listed in the credits, but by golly you were in a legitimate movie, which was showing in a real theatre. I dug the film, wrote a review (in which I didn’t mention you—sorry, Wes), and then stored it away in my memory banks.
Until last weekend, when I went to see GONE. Six bucks on a Sunday morning was enticement enough to see what I expected to be a lousy flick. This one I knew a little more about, but one thing I didn’t know is that it starred none other than… Wes Bentley! Wes, within a two month period, you were in two movies. Peter Hood gave you a little more to bite into, as the edgy cop who doesn’t exactly play it by the books. The movie even tries to suggest at times that you might be the homicidal maniac who kills women in Oregon and buries them in a hole in the forest. For the first time in 13 years, you had that edge again, that look and delivery that said you might be dangerous, if not masking an inner goodness. Outside of red herrings, the movie sadly never gave you enough to do, but it was a step in the right direction.
And then two days ago, there you were in my mailbox. The new issue of Entertainment Weekly had a big spread on THE HUNGER GAMES, which is likely to be a blockbuster (even if it looks like an awful combination of Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” and THE RUNNING MAN). Some faces, among them Woody Harrelson, graced the front cover in character. It was only when I delved into the magazine and found the article that I came across… hold your breath… a picture of Wes Bentley! In a brief snippet, you discuss your character under his picture. But that wasn’t nearly as cool as you pictured in a scene with the legendary Donald Sutherland as President Snow. The film has given you the chance to hobnob with the world’s chief executive officer, and as Seneca Crane to sport an artsy beard. How can you beat that?
I’m not going to see THE HUNGER GAMES, unless my sister Sarah asks me. But hundreds of millions of dollars worth of people likely will, and they’re going to see you up on the big screen in high fashion. In describing Seneca, you liken him to yourself, saying, “…he became wildly successful young. I’ve had that experience in my life, and it all went to my head. I lost touch with reality, and I thought everything I did would turn to gold.” It didn’t happen that way, Wes. If it had, I would have been surprised that you had a small role in UNDERWORLD for an entirely different reason. If anything, your recent roles that I’ve seen you in indicate you may have that edge back, the one that made you so enigmatic a young actor back in 1999, when you and Spacey had a conversation about a head giving head in RE-ANIMATOR. Let’s hope it’s not another 13 years before I’m thinking about you again.