I’m struck by the loss of Anton Yelchin. A week ago I was writing about his fantastic turn in Green Room. Today, I’m writing this.
Yelchin passed away Sunday morning in Los Angeles.
Taking a look today, I’m struck even more that at only 27 he has left us with such a large reel of film.
If you recognize only his face, it’s probably from the latest Star Trek franchise. Yelchin was funny and bright in that part. A scene stealer to be sure. You can see him play Chekov one last time in Star Trek Beyond, in theaters next month.
If you’ve been following Yelchin’s career (and it has been a career’s worth of work), you know he’s been around a very long time.
Yelchin was born in Leningrad, USSR in 1989.
The child of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Anton’s family moved to America that same year. At twelve, he starred in Along Came a Spider, followed quickly by a starring role alongside Anthony Hopkins in Hearts in Atlantis.
A champion of the indie film, he shows up in features and a number of short films from 2000 to just last month. An oft supporting actor, and when he was the star, he brought a characteristic awkward charm to the part that your typical “Hollywood-type” just could never hope to find.
He was a special kind of actor – inward, thoughtful, quiet, with a keen sense of timing. He’ll be deeply missed on screen, as well as off. In the only kind of memoriam I know how to do, I’ve given some thought to my favorite of Yelchin roles. Below are those films.
My Top 6 Anton Yelchin Films:
1. The Beaver
I know a lot of us were avoiding Mel Gibson vehicles around 2011. Unfortunately, it probably aided in your missing this Jodie Foster-directed gem. It’s a strange script with a strange (and very good) performance by Gibson. It is also gifted with Yelchin’s portrayal of Gibson’s son – a teenage boy who has to contend with a father in the midst of a psychological breakdown who will only communicate with the aid of a hand-puppet. When he ends up punching a wall midway through the film, you just get it.
2. Charlie Bartlett
A pre-Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. plays father-figure and school principal to Yelchin’s Charlie Bartlett – a precocious, nerdy, very smart underdog who becomes the unlikely popular kid in school by acting as pseudo-psychiatrist (and vending his loopy mother’s drugs). It’s the film that probably best characterizes the unlikely sort of protagonist Yelchin was capable of creating. In the hands of someone else, the rich kid persona may have been too bratty, too self-serving. Here, Charlie Bartlett is a wealthy teenage drug dealer – but also an excellent talk therapist, and a great friend.
3. Only Lovers Left Alive
At 27, if you’ve already been in a Jim Jarmusch movie (alongside Tilda Swinton, no less), you’re on your way. Playing the short-lived (literally) love interest to Mia Wasikowska’s Ava, Yelchin doesn’t have a lot of time to make an impact. But he does – again with a charming oddity that makes him intensely awkward, but completely honest and naive. As hanger-on/vampire-roadie Ian, he’s funny, love-struck, and honest.
4. Odd Thomas
I’ll be frank – this isn’t a great movie. The source material wasn’t great either. But as critics were quick to point out, what makes Odd Thomas watchable (and nearly likable) is Anton Yelchin. The script is wooden, but here’s an actor oddly (*pun*) capable of translating it into something special. Under his care, stiff writing becomes careful, storybook quality dialogue. His romance with Penny, initially contrived, feels a little bit dreamy. Most of all, he embodied the magic of the character – with Yelchin’s quirks, he becomes an unlikely, but adorable, evil-fighting superhero.
5. Fright Night
I don’t rep for remakes; I’ll stand up for this one all day long. The original is a horror-comedy classic, with killer effects and iconic makeup. This one is modernized, funny, and vicious. As Charley Brewster, I think Yelchin is better than his predecessor – perhaps because the character is so different. William Ragsdale in the ’85 version is so preppy, so easily popular. Yelchin plays Charley as a popular guy, but as always, he’s a little more layered, a little bit restrained, a kid with an emo-cool and a side of vaguely nerdy. It makes his descent into my-next-door-neighbor-is-a-vampire mania all the more believable to me.
6. Green Room
I saw it on opening weekend in April (Review here). I was thrilled to see Jeremy Saulnier’s latest horror/drama. Even more thrilled that one of my favorite young actors was its headliner. It’s one of the most visceral, scary, realistic horror films I’ve ever seen. Yelchin was a huge part of that, lending his down-to-earth attitude and bug-eyed, shaky terror.
We never learn his character Pat’s desert island band. Who would he pick if he could only have one band to listen to the rest of his life? I find myself wondering what Anton Yelchin would have picked. I’m remembering Imogen Poots’ line that cuts him off – put it in perspective, it doesn’t really matter.
Anton Yelchin has 65 credits to his name. I only wish there would have been 65 more.
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