Although his role on The Sopranos may be the work for which James Gandolfini was best known, the talented actor had featured roles in no fewer than three dozen movies. Here are seven terrific performances:
True Romance (1993), as Virgil
In the film that put him on Hollywood’s radar, Gandolfini played Virgil, a henchman in the employ of gangster Vincenzo Coccotti (Christopher Walken). He had two memorable scenes: one, briefly interrogating a blissfully stoned Brad Pitt; and the other, getting beaten up and (literally) burned by Patricia Arquette.
Crimson Tide (1995), as Lt. Bobby Dougherty
Gandolfini donned a naval officer’s uniform in Tony Scott’s crackerjack submarine thriller, playing a lieutenant who stays loyal to the USS Alabama’s skipper (Gene Hackman) after the captain’s authority is challenged by his executive officer (Denzel Washington). Gandolfini’s best moment comes early in the movie when, on a bus carrying the crew to the sub, he quizzes a hapless sailor on the topic of famous submarine movies: “Who played the submarine commander in Enemy Below with Robert Mitchum?! Was it Curt Jurgens or Hardy Kruger?!”
Get Shorty (1995), as Bear
As the burly muscle who protects drug merchant Bo Catlett (Delroy Lindo), Bear is a gentle sort who’d much rather work in movies. Gandolfini demonstrates a deft comedic touch in director Barry Sonnenfeld’s largely faithful adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s entertaining crime novel.
8MM (1999), as Eddie Poole
Not many people (understandably) saw this nasty thriller, in which Nicolas Cage plays a private eye tracking down the killers of a girl who may have met her end in a snuff film. Gandolfini finds the oily center to the sleazy “talent agent” who procures the unwitting victims for this sickening and murderous enterprise.
In the Loop (2009), as Lt. Gen. George Miller
Wearing a military uniform (again) in this blackest of comedies, based on some real-life events that lead to Britain’s involvement in the second Gulf War, Gandolfini shows some impressive verbal dexterity. He easily handles the wondrously profane, mile-a-minute dialog that is a signature of writer-director Armando Iannucci (the creator and producer of the HBO series Veep).
Where the Wild Things Are (2009), as Carol
Like Tony Soprano, a wild and destructive creature unable to deal with his innermost feelings.
Welcome to the Rileys (2010), as Doug Riley
In this small and unconventional drama, Gandolfini and Melissa Leo play a married couple that have drifted apart following the unexpected death of their daughter. He goes to New Orleans on a business trip and takes up temporary residence with a stripper (Kristen Stewart) for whom he develops paternal feelings. He (and Leo) are terrific as broken souls, each looking for a way to reconnect and re-engage with a world that might leave them behind.
Not Fade Away (2012), as Pat Damiano
In one of his last film performances, Gandolfini reunites with Sopranos creator David Chase (who was directing his first feature-length movie). Playing the emotionally (and physically) abusive father of an aspiring rock singer, he’s absolutely nails his few scenes, painting an indelible portrait of a timid loser who inflicts the accumulated pain from a lifetime of unfulfilled dreams on his son.