I've always respected Laurence Fishburne because he seems to have a lot of natural grace on screen and is quite a good actor. Aside from the Matrix trilogy, he's not well known for leading roles. What is the most striking about Fishburne is the combination of these features, small roles and good acting, for which he seems to get little recognition. However, I can think of very few actors who can consistently "make" a movie, often it's a combination of elements which the actor does very well in. This is how actors often get typecast. Laurence in my thinking has not been typecast, yet remains a good actor who consistently makes each film he is in that much better by his presence. So I've compiled a list of my five favorite Fishburne appearances, some of which you do, and some which you probably don't know, and why I think they're worthy of recognition.
1.) Socrates Fortlow - Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned
This one was a surprise to me. I saw it years ago on cable (it is an HBO original) and couldn't forget it. It tells the story of a guy, Fishburne, who has a dark past for which he has payed a social debt (prison) and which he continues to pay a personal debt (guilt), no matter how much he wants to be a better man, he is judged by his past. This captures a frequent dilemma faced by the homeless (though Fishburne's character is not) in which pulling oneself out of destitution is prevented by a social stereotype which one can never escape. Probably Fishburne's best role of all time, this is one case where he definitely does make the film.
2.) "Clean" - Apocalypse Now
Fishburne took this role at the age of 16 or so, and the film as a whole is epic and almost impossible to fully understand without a long course of study in post World War 2 American culture and the Vietnam War specifically. I can't stress enough that although surreal and hyperbolic, Apocalypse Now is very much a subjective American encapsulation of that war. It was co-scripted by Michael Herr whose book Dispatches I can't recommend enough. Fishburne's character is highly memorable because he captures the innocence and insanity of kids fighting a war, and of course dies tragically.
3.) Thug - Death Wish 2
The Death Wish series, at least in its early entries provided a breakthrough for numerous actors who later made a name for themselves (see also Jeff Goldblum and Marina Sirtis), usually in bit parts like Fishburne in Deathwish 2, as merely a thug in one or two scenes but making an impression nonetheless with those bitchin' cyberpunk glasses. Plus it stars my man Charles Bronson and his lady Jill Ireland.
4.) Capitan Miller - Event Horizon
I loved this movie when it came out because I love science fiction and I love gore, and this was strictly creepy and had both. Watching it years later, it's pretty dated, especially the primitive CGI which I remeber being sooooo rad, but which almost hurts now. Anyway, a great starring role for Fishburne in a forward thinking gorror-sci-fi movie that does a good job playing up the idea that man's pursuit of science has broken some fundamental barrier between natural and The Beyond.
5.) Lt. Charlie Stobbs - Red Heat
This is where Fishburne makes a dumb movie with an good plot tolerable, so I guess you could say he makes the movie in a roundabout way. Soviet cop Schwartzenegger, with an Austrian accent and no acting ability, and Chicago cop Belushi with a handful of dick jokes and sexist bigotry are almost intolerable. Fishburne (along with Peter Boyle) save a fairly interesting plot from sinking beneath the dead weight of the leads.
So there you have it. I think Laurence Fishburne is a great actor, one of my favorites and definitely worthy of respect, if you weren't sure, check out these movies, your doubts will vaporize.