Like so many conventionally attractive leading men in Hollywood, Chris Pine is typically cast as just a standard hero in major movies but often excels as an actor when he’s allowed to cut loose with something offbeat and weird. You may know Pine because of Star Trek and Wonder Woman, but where he really thrives is whenever he’s allowed to grow a beard, have a bead of sweat on his forehead, and get his hands dirty. In these roles, it’s hard to forget that more conventional Chris Pine look. That’s a testament to both his skills as an actor and the wonders that can happen when Hollywood lets Chris Pine play around in grimier material.
What Were Chris Pine’s Earliest Grimy Roles?
In the wake of Star Trek launching him into the stratosphere, Chris Pine took on a handful of traditional leading man roles, including in long-forgotten motion pictures like This Means War and People Like Us. However, in 2014, five years after he first stepped onto the U.S.S. Enterprise and the same year he anchored a disposable reboot of the Jack Ryan movies, Pine began getting his freak on. This was the year Pine made an uncredited lengthy supporting performance in Stretch as Roger Karos, a figure who enters the movie parachuting down onto a limousine in his underwear. Karos is meant to be an embodiment of unbridled chaos and Pine’s gusto in this introductory sequence makes that personality entertainingly apparent.
Stretch as an overall movie is never quite the sum of its parts. It’s a Joe Carnahan directorial effort that lacks the endearing idiocy of his 2010 film The A-Team, and much like his 2021 feature Copshop, feels like a bit too much B-movie edge lord nonsense. However, if there’s any standout part of Stretch, it’s Pine’s performance. Reuniting with Carnahan after Pine got to cut loose as a white supremacist in Smokin’ Aces, Pine throws himself completely into being an unpredictable sleazeball. The dissonance between Pine’s status as a classical leading man and the mayhem he unleashes in Stretch proves shockingly enduring in terms of pure entertainment value. If other actors in Stretch, namely Ed Helms and James Badge Dale, feel a bit too rooted in reality, Pine’s work as Karos is enjoyably manic.
This performance, which just radiates with the filth of excess money and power, was a clearer indicator that Pine could go for the grimy and excel as an actor in the process. Later that year, Pine would liven up Horrible Bosses 2 as the antagonistic rich guy Rex Hanson. Pine doesn’t just score some laughs here. His performance hints at a darker, funnier feature. A scene where Hanson starts beating himself up, with nary a quippy line delivered by Pine to undercut the burst of self-inflicted brutality, underscores what a malicious and extreme character Hanson is.
While everyone else in Horrible Bosses 2, namely the three protagonists, is busy delivering outdated pop culture references and excessively overlong bits of improvised comedy, Pine is relishing the chance to play someone so despicable. He’s committed to playing a standalone character, one whose desperation and willingness to do anything to achieve his vicious goals deserved a much more interesting movie to inhabit. Horrible Bosses 2 would be quickly forgotten before its opening weekend was even finished. However, it did at least provide a reminder that Pine was very good at playing seedy characters. If he could nail this kind of performance in a movie as dreadful as Horrible Bosses 2, who knows what he could do with quality material?
‘Hell or High Water’ Shows Chris Pine’s Commitment to Grimy Characters
Pine’s gift for portraying characters who are drenched in sweat and grit isn’t just limited to playing adversaries in disposable 2014 genre movies. He also used this talent to play the protagonist of Hell or High Water, Toby Howard. A man living in West Texas whose robbing banks with his brother Tanner (Ben Foster) as part of a revenge scheme against Texas Midlands Bank. The idea of a classical hunk like Pine taking on the role of a cash-strapped Texan sounds like it could be a recipe for a Hillbilly Elegy-style disaster.
Thankfully, Pine opts for subtlety in portraying Toby Howard. Eschewing very loud or stylized traits to indicate he’s playing an “everyman” (such as a fatsuit or a cartoonish accent), Pine reaches for more restrained details, like adjusting his posture to reflect a man whose been beaten down by the injustices of the world. Pine’s willingness to be covered in dirt and sweat also nicely captures the idea that Toby Howard works tirelessly on his family’s ranch, a domicile being threatened by Texas Midlands Bank. Performances in Stretch and Horrible Bosses 2 used grimy Chris Pine to capture evil people who reek of desperation and privilege. Hell or High Water, by contrast, uses this version of Pine to lend urgency to Toby Howard’s plight.
Let Chris Pine Be Sweaty and Dirty, You Cowards
Since 2016, Chris Pine’s film roles have, tragically, not made extravagant use of his gift for grimy roles. Projects like the two Wonder Woman movies and Don’t Worry Darling see him operating with no facial hair or grime on his body. Even Outlaw King, a now long-forgotten Netflix epic he starred in with Hell or High Water director David Mackenzie, didn’t offer Pine a lot of chances to be memorably sweaty and desperate. It’s not necessarily bad when Pine inhabits these kinds of performances (he’s a lot of fun in the first Wonder Woman!) but does feel like a reflection of Hollywood’s misunderstanding of what makes this actor so compelling to watch on-screen.
Pine looks like a parody of the hot white guys Hollywood gravitates to as default leading men. But through projects ranging wildly in overall quality like Stretch and Hell or High Water, Pine has shown off a gift for getting his hands dirty and portraying desperation so palpable you can practically feel it breathing down your neck. Even his most memorable comedic moments in family movies like the “Agony” sequence in Into the Woods or the hysterical end-credits “Spidey-Bell” number in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse make use of Pine’s strengths for portraying messy torment. Here’s to hoping future Chris Pine roles lean heavily on this talent. Nothing should get moviegoers more stoked for what’s to come in a Chris Pine star vehicle than seeing the actor with sweat drenching his brow and dirt dominating his fingertips.