Sir Ben Kingsley’s career spans genres as well as decades. But with a few key exceptions, his some of his most noteworthy work has occurred in the last ten years. For an aging actor, Kingsley has taken on some truly interesting roles of late, preferring to go out in a blaze of glory than to fade into obscurity. Good for him. This choice is to the benefit of the audience as well. He recent work with Martin Scorsese and Shane Black — as well as the comedic genius that is Sacha Baron Cohen — is truly laudable. Here are seven of his best to date.
Not satisfied to be the forefather of the modern blockbuster, in the early 1990s, Steven Spielberg began developing an adaptation of the story of Oskar Schindler. Schindler was an industrialist who operated an enamelware factory in Nazi-occupied Krakow, Poland. Through his standing as a businessman, he was able to give more than a thousand European Jews protected worker status in his factory. By doing so, he saved them from being sent to concentration camps. In the film, Schindler is played by Liam Neeson, while Kingsley plays his Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern and Ralph Fiennes plays Amon Goth, an officer in the SS. More than two decades later, it continues to be one of Spielberg’s most affecting films and one of Kingsley’s best performances.
Kingsley and Spielberg also collaborated on the latter’s film A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Monica and Henry Swinton (Frances O’Connor and Sam Robards) cope with the impending loss of their ill son, Martin (Jake Thomas) by taking in David, a humanoid robot programmed to experience emotions. Though David and his adoptive parents grow close, a surprising recovery on the part of Martin creates a great deal of emotional separation between them. As a result, David strikes out on his own, pondering his place in the universe and meeting colorful characters throughout his journey. Kingsley gives voice to Specialist, one of the most important humanoid androids in the film.
Hugo is evidence that Martin Scorsese has grown a bit soft in his old age. Sure, he can still give a nauseating portrayal of criminal decadence — his subsequent film The Wolf of Wall Street is evidence of that. But with Hugo, Scorsese created one of his most whimsical, saccharine films to date. Based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the film imagines a 1930s train station in Paris where all the clocks are maintained by an orphan named Hugo (Asa Butterfield). His only goal in life is to restore an automaton his father found before his death. One of the main characters Hugo finds himself in conflict with is Georges Melies (Kingsley), the once-great but now-forgotten silent filmmaker. Kingsley’s portrayal of Melies is some of the best the film has to offer, with Scorsese lovingly recreating of some of his most famous scenes.
After Borat and Bruno, two high-profile mockumentaries, daring comedian Sacha Baron Cohen saw fit to return to fiction for a spell. Baron Cohen plays the eponymous dictator, Admiral General Aladeen. Aladeen enriches himself on the suffering of the people of his nation Wadiya. That is, until his uncle Tamir (Kingsley) forces him out while on a trip to visit the United Nations in New York. The cartoonish despot then finds himself stranded in the Big Apple. With supporting performances from Anna Faris and Jason Mantzoukas, it may not be quite as shocking as the films which preceded it, but it is an enjoyable and irreverent piece of entertainment.
Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 feels rather different than some other Marvel entries. Set immediately after the events of The Avengers, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder. He is consumed by fear of his inability to protect his loved ones without his Iron Man suit. All this comes to a head when he finds himself targeted by a mysterious new antagonist known only as The Mandalorian (Kingsley). The Mandalorian intermittently commandeers the airwaves to wax philosophical and stoke fear. In spite of its somewhat heavy undertones, Black delivers an enjoyable film.
Scorsese’s sturdy thriller Shutter Island stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Teddy Daniels, a U.S. Marshal sent to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a patient from a mental hospital on Shutter Island in Boston Harbor. Plagued by hallucinations of atrocities he was party to in the Second World War and visions of his deceased wife (Michelle Williams), Teddy and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) quickly realize something is amiss in this midcentury institution. Kingsley’s chilling portrayal of the lead psychiatrist Dr. John Cawley is essential to the film.
Ender’s Game — Kingsley’s second collaboration with Asa Butterfield in three years — has some interesting concepts, even if it doesn’t all come together as one might want. Orson Scott Card’s novel of the same name has enjoyed relatively stable popularity among young adult readers since it was published back in 1985. Ender’s Game imagines a future in which human life has taken to the stars but now find themselves embroiled in an ongoing conflict with an insect-like species called the Formics. Gifted children are identified from an early age and begin training to take on the alien threat. “Ender” Wiggin (Butterfield) is one of those gifted children, as is Petra Arkanian (Hailee Steinfeld), who takes Ender under her wing. Kingsley, for plays a decorated war hero named Mazer Rackham.