13. Patrick Koster
Don't Say a Word (2001)
This is one of those thrillers that you think you know how it’s going to play out, but you totally don’t. All the performances are stellar, especially that of Brittany Murphy as a disturbed young girl possessed of a ten million-dollar secret: the location of a jewel stolen by her father and his avaricious colleagues. A gang led, of course, by Bean. Having repressed her ten year old memories of seeing her father murdered in front of her, Murphy’s Elisabeth is resident in a sanatorium. Child psychologist Dr. Nathan Conrad (Michael Douglas) is called in to help with her case, and his daughter is taken hostage against his success at getting Elisabeth to reveal the whereabouts of the jewel. There is a whole lot of yelling, and running, and chasing, and a cool lady cop (Jennifer Esposito) in the mix, and in a satisfying denouement, ruthless killer Patrick Koster is buried alive, still seeking his ill-gotten gains. Did not see that one coming at all.
14. Cleric Errol Partridge
In a society in which emotion is a sin (‘cause it leads to anger and anger leads to the Dark Side, you know the drill), art, literature and anything else that might evoke strong passion has been banned, and is to be burnt. This soul-crushing act is carried out by the Grammaton Clerics, an austere and disciplined body who search out “sense offenders” without mercy and have one of the coolest-looking -- if, in reality, probably least effective -- martial arts: the Gun Kata. Bean plays one such Cleric, but one that has seen the error of his totalitarian society’s ways. After developing a crush on Emily Watson (which, not surprising, is it?), it is only a short step to Yeats, and it is while reading from this poet’s greatest hits that Partridge is brought to justice when shot by his law-abiding partner, played by a stone-faced Christian Bale – who then begins to question all he’s ever believed. Of course. Equilibrium is nothing so much as an amalgam of Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, The Penultimate Truth, 1984 and Logan’s Run, among others, but it is no less awesome for all that, and Bean is simply riveting in what is essentially a cameo role.
Relive the Gun Kata!
15. Robert Aske
Henry VIII (2003)
Among an enormous cast of distinguished British greatness, Bean nevertheless stands out in this sensationalized, serialized biopic of England’s most infamous monarch (infamous if only because he puts that “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am” song into people’s heads, and it will not go away). He plays one Robert Aske: in reality, a lawyer of respectable Yorkshire origins who protested against the religious reforms brought about by schism from Rome. Here, he is portrayed as a rabble-rousing former army captain with a vendetta against his King, and who almost deserves his gruesome traitor’s death: hung by chains. One could protest, but among the other needless historical inaccuracies in this extravagant mini-series, Aske’s treatment is the least of our concerns.
16. Dr. Bernard Merrick
The Island (2005)
In this unsuccessful clones-are-people-too parable, Bean plays a soulless head scientist who is basically a genetic slaver. Wealthy people pay him to raise and keep their clones in stasis against the need for a new liver or replacement arm; instead, he has them conscious but kept in a state of childlike innocence; it’s like the proto-Dollhouse, but not nearly as interesting. Of course, this status quo, while profitable, cannot be maintained for long, or we wouldn’t have much of a movie, and Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor), a most unusually curious clone, escapes from the company’s clutches with Scarlett Johanssen in tow (nice work if you can get it), and the pair later return to liberate all of the other clones. At which time Bean’s bean counter Merrick, who is almost incidental to the plot -- sure, he orders a few deaths and such, but for our movie’s nominal villain, he really is massively inconspicuous -- gets in a tussle with Lincoln that ends with him hung by a cable after having been shot through the neck by a grappling hook. If only the rest of the movie had been that creative.
Far North (2007)
This film comes replete with one of the most touching, and yet devastating, romances on Sean Bean’s resume. Spectacularly shot in the Arctic tundra, it tells a tragic tale of love, loss and jealousy as Saiva (Michelle Yeoh), outcast from her tribe when pronounced evil by their shaman, first saves the lives of Anja (Michelle Krusiec) and Bean’s Loki, but then ends up destroying them rather than allowing them to leave her -- Loki dies by her design, not only frozen, but naked with it. Intense, glorious, terribly beautiful and profoundly upsetting, this one will either leave you in impotent fury, in floods of tears, or utterly baffled. And will then haunt you for days to come.
18. Danny Bryant
In a crime-ridden facsimile of modern London in which police corruption is rampant and senseless violence is a widespread occurrence, paratrooper Danny Bryant returns from war only to find himself cuckolded. His subsequent move to a hotel introduces him to one Simon Hillier (Sean Harris), through whom he soon meets some other likeminded souls who are fed up with the status quo. They form a vigilante posse, dubbed the Outlaws, and Bryant, now their leader, proceeds to go batshit crazy. He dies stupidly, in a firefight with armored police, shot multiple times while believing himself to be a martyr and a hero, rather than a common thug. Man, this film is exhausting.
19. John Ryder
The Hitcher (2007)
Is it wrong to be rooting for a serial killer? Of course it is. Especially one that is as indiscriminate and beyond all reason as Ryder, the titular hitcher of the film whose dark motivations are murky at best and who adds torture and attempted rape to his other disturbing activities. (Enough with the rapey characters, Sean Bean. Enough!) For all his brutal murdering of nice families from the suburbs, though, perhaps Ryder’s biggest offence here is in his severing of the very special romantic bond between this movie’s quite adorable main couple, Jim (Zachary Knighton) and Grace (Sophia Bush). And yet… there’s something compelling about Ryder. Attractive, even. And, yes, of course we all cheer when Grace, having endured hell at the hands of this man, at last shoots him dead -- and just when he thought he’d gotten away with it, too. But also there is a kind of lingering melancholy at deranged Ryder’s abrupt comeuppance. Such is the power of Bean.
20. John Dawson
Red Riding: The Year of Our Lord, 1973 (2008)
In this adaptation of the David Pearce novel Nineteen Seventy-Three, set in 1970’s Yorkshire, Bean plays a corrupt land developer and possible deranged serial killer, torturer and rapist (seriously: again?) who is being investigated by intrepid journalist Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield), and is very fond of turtlenecks. Dawson is, in the end, shot by Eddie in retaliation for the murder of his new lady love, Paula (Rebecca Hall), and then Eddie deliberately drives his car into oncoming traffic. This is one depressing affair.
21. Pyke Kubic
A pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth plays here Sam, who can’t believe his luck when he happens upon a suitcase full of money: half a million dollars worth. The money had originally been stolen by the now-jailed, improbably named, Reese Kubic, and when his twin brother Pyke tracks down Sam and his wife to find that some of the cache is missing, he forces them to turn bandit in order to repay the thousands they had spent. Eventually, Sam has had enough of being controlled, Pyke gets shot, and his body disposed of in a handy car compactor. In other news, Reese (also played by Bean, of course), does survive to the end of the movie. Huh.
22. Markus Kane
Death Race 2 (2010)
In this prequel to the 2009 Jason Statham vehicle (forgive the pun) Death Race, itself a remake of the earlier 1975 version that made criminals-in-rally-cars such a tour de force, Bean plays a ruthless mob boss who callously puts a bounty on the head of potential hostile witness and death racer extraordinaire Luke, AKA Frankenstein (Luke Goss). He is punished for his sins when he takes a shot in the chest from a skinny Triad kid and then falls artistically back into his swimming pool.
Hey, that’s what you get for trying to have a member of 80’s British pop sensation Bros killed.
Black Death (2010)
In this Medieval meditation on the nature of religion, love and epidemiology, Bean plays Ulrich, an aggressively devout soldier of the Lord who is dispatched to investigate suspected necromancy in a village that is mysteriously, possibly sinisterly, free of the virulent titular disease. Half-way through, it all goes a bit Wicker Man, and Ulrich is actually quartered (y’know, pulled apart while roped to horses galloping in opposite directions) while also suffering from the Bubonic Plague. Overkill much? (This movie, meanwhile, has a deeply depressing and unsatisfying conclusion. It’s really true: no one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition.)
24. Major Jack Jones
Age of Heroes (2011)
Does Jones die? Live? Who knows? This World War II Ian Fleming biopic/commando movie about a British infiltration into Nazi-occupied Europe to spy on… well… science, sees Bean as an expectant father, a respected soldier, and the head of the elite black ops unit tasked with the job. Moments before the end of the movie, Jones is engaged in a furious firefight with superior enemy forces, yelling at his fellow commandos to leave him to cover their retreat while they head for Stockholm, promising to meet them there. While it would be nice to believe that he, in fact, does, the historical record on which this film is based would seem to indicate that he does not. Also, dude. It’s Sean Bean. Of course Jones died.
25. Lord Eddard Stark
Game of Thrones, “Baelor”, 01.09 (2011)
Ned Stark is unforgivably stupid in A Game of Thrones, and the faithful HBO adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s book did not gift him with even one iota more common sense. Ignoring Arya’s (admittedly muddled) warning of a conspiracy against him, warning the duplicitous Queen Cersei that he knew of her children’s illegitimacy, and trusting the goodwill of his wife’s sleazy spurned lover are only a few of his failings. The fact that he then confesses to treason in order to spare his simpering daughter Sansa’s life, only to have his own ended when he is summarily beheaded by a swift sword to the neck, is just part and parcel of the idiocy that ever was Ned.
Winter is coming, indeed.
Forthcoming this year for Bean are Soldiers of Fortune, about thrill-seeking businessmen taking Fantasy War vacations and Cleanskin, an anti-terrorism thriller -- and not, as one might have suspected, an exploration of the thrilling and cutthroat world of unlabeled wine. Will he survive either of them? Only time will tell. (If you had to guess though? No way, right?)
And in the meantime, we still have plenty of awesome, non-fatal Bean viewing to slide into the Netflix queue. Maybe just start with all those Sharpe movies, and go from there?