Though he had previously had minor parts in everything from Sixteen Candles to Broadcast News, John Cusack first made an impression on audiences in Cameron Crowe’s 1989 teen drama Say Anything.
Like older sister Joan, he’s been in this business for more than 25 years and has damn near done it all—from playing the love interest in films like America’s Sweethearts, Serendipity and Must Love Dogs to the innocent victim of hauntings in Identity and 1408. Behind the scenes he has even taken on the role of writer and producer for some of his most memorable movies.
Cusack’s last film, Martian Child, didn’t fare so well with audiences—or critics—but this week he’s getting back to business, starring in War, Inc., which he also co-wrote and produced. Before you head out to see the film in limited release, spend some time revisiting Cusack’s movie career with MM.
Say Anything (1989)
As Lloyd Dobler, women found Cusack a romantic ideal, while guys found a new bar set very high. First-time director Cameron Crowe distilled a simultaneous combination of vulnerability and confidence from Cusack’s performance. TimeOut said the actor’s “quiet integrity and oddball personality tap the charm of a jive-talking Jimmy Stewart.”
Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
In this original story co-written by Cusack, the actor plays Martin Blank, a gun-for-hire who returns to his hometown of Grosse Pointe, Michigan on an assignment that just happens to coincide with his 10-year high school reunion. But his return home is not as cut and dry as other assignments when rival hitmen, including Dan Aykroyd, attempt to carry out a bid on his head. The movie co-stars Minnie Driver as the abandoned high school girlfriend, Alan Arkin as Blank’s therapist (every hired gun needs one of those) and Jeremy Piven, who, to date, has appeared in 10 movies with the actor.
Being John Malkovich (1999)
Straying from his earlier buttoned-up work in studio features like Con Air and The Thin Red Line, Cusack was against type as Craig Schwartz, office worker and husband to a frizzy-haired Cameron Diaz. The movie, directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman, also strayed from typical story conventions—planting its main character on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike after a literal journey through the mind of Academy Award nominee John Malkovich. Its original vision landed the film two Spirit Awards (in addition to a nod for Cusack’s lead role), three Academy Award and four Golden Globe nominations.
High Fidelity (2000)
High Fidelity, based on a novel of the same name by popular British author Nick Hornby, traces the past failed relationships of a 30-something Chicago record store owner. Rob Gordon cares more for music and his record collection than his girlfriends, often associating his human interactions with key musical elements in his life. Talking to the camera and dragging us through Gordon’s lucid dreams, Cusack pulls off a comedic performance that landed him a Golden Globe nomination and a screenplay that was nominated by the WGA for its adaptation.
Grace Is Gone (2007)
The haunting story of a discharged American soldier widowed by the war in Iraq, won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. “I was watching a news story about the war in Iraq that featured the parents of soldiers who had been killed, and it struck me: What would happen to your belief system if you lost a loved one to the cause?” writer-director James C. Strouse explained to MM. As Stanley Phillips, Cusack steered clear of the satire that’s often present in his work, instead, turning in a harrowing, heartbreaking performance.
War, Inc. (2008)
In this satire of corporate sponsorship and war, Cusack once again plays a gun-for-hire undercover at an American corporation that has set up shop in the fictional war-torn country of Turaqistan, but beyond that the story gets fuzzy. Much in the same vein as Grosse Pointe Blank—even going so far as to include a cameo by Dan Aykroyd—the movie definitely has a statement to make: Be weary of the control corporations are gaining over the lives of everyday citizens and with our foreign interests—particularly during times of war. Think Halliburton and you’ve got the right idea. The movie also stars Marissa Tomei as a noble embedded American journalist, Hilary Duff as a young, naïve Central Asian superstar with a surprising past and Ben Kingsley in a comic Dr. Xavier role. But it is John’s sister Joan that steals the show with some of the film’s most entertaining and prescient musings.