Movie Article

Woods' Work

James Woods' most memorable roles -- A critique of Woods' performances in ''The Onion Field,'' ''Videodrome,'' ''Salvador,'' and more

James Woods' most memorable roles

A jangle of compulsively watchable energy, James Woods may be the true heir to another jumpin' Jimmy — the great Cagney. Though he's had success playing regular guys, Woods is at his best as a wired, charmingly hostile con man. Here are some of his most notable roles.

THE ONION FIELD (1979)
With laser-beam eyes and a nonstop pitch about the virtues of family, Woods' feral cop killer comes on like hell's used-car dealer. What he's selling is chaos. B+

VIDEODROME (1983)
Woods plays a scuzzy cable pirate who finds a TV signal that causes mind control and goopy special effects. Fascinatingly weird and incomprehensible, this is the strangest thing either Woods or director David Cronenberg has ever done — and that's saying something. C

SALVADOR (1986)
A lean firecracker of a film, and still the best thing with Oliver Stone's name on it. As the gonzo photojournalist who drives into the heart of El Salvador's darkness and barely comes out alive, Woods hits a peak of sleazy charisma: This isn't a performance, it's a pit bull straining at the leash. A-

COP (1987)
Woods plays a burnt-out detective tracking a serial killer. Admittedly thin stuff, it's as generic as its title, but the star gets to deliver lines like ''You shoot a girl's date, the least you can do is drive her home.'' In other words, it's not a great movie, but it is a great James Woods movie. B

THE BOOST (1988)
Woods really gets under the skin of Lenny Brown, a salesman dragooned by cocaine, but he's so neurotically frazzled from the first frame that he has no place to go when he finally snorts. And whatever happened off the set with Sean Young (playing his wife), the two don't connect on-screen. D+

TRUE BELIEVER (1989)
He's right on target as Eddie Dodd, the ponytailed, pot-smoking radical lawyer who can't make peace with the '80s. The movie never soars, though, perhaps because moony-eyed Robert Downey Jr. is tied to Woods' legs like a deadweight. B+

Originally posted Apr 12, 1991 Published in issue #61 Apr 12, 1991 Order article reprints
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