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Top 5 Edward Norton Movies

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When Edward Norton first hit the big screen in 1996, the courtroom thriller Primal Fear introduced audiences to a new actor with dynamic and nuanced portrayals of characters the audience was forced to question. He also pulled off one of the best plot twists in film history. Although he’s known for his work in Wes Anderson movies, Norton is capable of much more than what those roles would suggest. He carries this satirical dark comedy as obnoxious theater actor Mike Shiner with ease and soul.

1. Primal Fear (1996)

Norton’s powerful presence carries the movie in this bleak tale of a man with no moral compass. The actor’s complete commitment to the role — and his willingness to dig into the character’s psyche, even as it descended into cruelty and inhumanity — is what makes this film a memorable one. The movie was based on William Diehl’s 1993 best seller, and Gregory Hoblit’s script is filled with cynical insights into the corruption of big-city judges, clergy and politicians. The courtroom thriller may plod at times, but Norton’s gripping performance is a riveting center point.

The Boston-born newcomer, who had mainly been working in theater, beat out Leonardo DiCaprio for the part of Aaron Stampler, the altar boy accused of murdering an archbishop. His ability to look innocent, yet muster up reserves of menace when needed, is impressive.

2. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (1999)

Edward Norton proves he’s not just a great actor, but a talented director as well. His directorial debut is a solid and wholesome romantic comedy about family and faith. The sequel to 2019’s Knives Out, Glass Onion stars Daniel Craig as detective Benoit Blanc in this risible and entertaining crime story set on a private Greek island. It also features an ensemble cast of familiar faces like Leslie Odom Jr. and Madelyn Cline.

As one of the most influential and versatile actors of his generation, Norton’s filmography is brimming with powerful performances. From playing a skinhead gangster in American History X to a tech billionaire in Glass Onion, the actor’s ability to tackle so many different characters is impressive. He’s a true master of acting and a three-time Oscar nominee.

3. Motherless Brooklyn (1999)

Almost two decades after Primal Fear first put him on the map as a full-fledged movie star, Edward Norton produced, starred in, and wrote this noir thriller. He also directed, bringing the same level of intense commitment to this dark and provocative neo-noir about corrupt cops and the tangled web of power brokers that make up New York City.

Norton worked tirelessly to bring Jonathan Lethem’s novel about a detective with Tourette syndrome to the screen. The choice to set the ibomma film in 1950s times allows him to expand the plot from a local murder mystery to an examination of large-scale urban corruption and racism. His characterization of Lionel Essrog is brilliantly complex without ever wandering into showy territory. He is ably supported by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, and Willem Dafoe.

4. The Italian Job (2003)

The unnamed narrator of Fight Club is a complex figure wrestling with concepts of consumerism, identity, and masculinity. Norton’s performance is layered and nuanced, a far cry from the more cartoonish roles he has played in other movies like American History X. A remake of a classic caper flick, The Italian Job boasts a taut script and a slew of talented actors including Mark Wahlberg, Donald Sutherland, and Charlize Theron. But it’s Norton who steals the show.

The film assumes the average moviegoer can’t handle moral ambiguity so it bends over backward to make the crooks in this story good-hearted. And in doing so it robs the movie of its originality. That’s a shame because Norton gives his all here. His performance is a solid addition to his remarkable filmography. He deserves more opportunities to showcase his acting prowess.

5. The Last King of Scotland (2002)

A polarizing Oscar winner, this drama is an underrated gem in Norton’s catalog. As detective Lionel Essrog, the actor delivers a melancholy yet compelling performance. His character’s struggle with Tourette’s syndrome and descent into anarchy are highly relatable. In this adaptation of Steven Millhauser’s novel, the actor provides one of his most subtle and understated performances. His fussy concierge Gustave is a man who’s a step or two behind everyone else, and Norton nails his character’s obliviousness perfectly.

In a film that’s often seen as overblown and oh-so-serious, Norton is anything but. He gives an unrelenting performance as a volatile theater actor who can’t shake his sense of self-importance, even to the detriment of those around him. He is both hilariously obnoxious and genuinely touching. A definite highlight of his career.

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