In Defense of Taylor Kitsch

Taylor Kitsch has had a rough year making the leap to the big screen. His first two leading roles post-"Friday Night Lights" fame – "John Carter" and "Battleship" – turned out to be two of the year's biggest big budget flops to date. With such high profile, back-to-back duds, some "FNL" fans must be wondering if their beloved Tim Riggins has a future in Hollywood.

The answer is an all-caps YES, if you ask us, and not just because we're devoted fans of the high-school football drama. Kitsch, 31, isn't to blame for the epic failure of "John Carter" or the box office under-delivery of "Battleship." Both barely earned back their budgets, and that was only with help from overseas ticket sales. (Read Film.com's reviews of "John Carter" and "Battleship.")  He was horribly miscast for the former, although even a different lead wouldn't have helped salvage the uneven mess -- and let's not even get into the marketing morass that might have sunk "Carter" before it even opened. As for "Battleship," how could he not trust his "FNL" writer/director Peter Berg to direct him on the big screen – even if the material was based on a board game?

In Oliver Stone's newest drama "Savages," a violent California tale of sex, drugs, and the money that makes it all possible, Kitsch proves he's more than just a pretty face. (Read Film.com's review of "Savages" here.) The good news for Kitsch is that Stone, a notoriously divisive director, has received mostly positive reviews for "Savages," and so has Kitsch personally. Although his character transforms the least in the twisty story, Kitsch doesn't necessarily need to display much range in the role. As the steely-eyed Chon, a pot dealer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, he's the muscle to his business partner and best friend Ben's (Aaron Johnson) sensitive pacifism.

The bad news is that to Kitsch hasn't had a chance yet to show the range or the humor he displayed so easily in "Friday Night Lights." For a glimpse at Kitsch's skills, says Jen Chaney, Celebritology blogger at the Washington Post, forget his John Carter and check out his Kevin Carter in the little-seen indie "The Bang Bang Club."

A 2010 drama about four real-life combat photographers, "The Bang Bang Club" centers on Ryan Phillippe's character, but Kitsch is the one to watch. Kitsch plays Kevin Carter, who took the unforgettable photo of the starving Sudanese child being stalked by a vulture.

"It's Ryan Phillippe's movie, but Kitsch's character is infinitely more interesting," she tells Film.com. "It's his story you wish the movie was about. Nobody has seen it, but Kitsch is very, very good in it. "

Chaney also points out that despite the double disappointment of  "John Carter" and "Battleship," Kitsch has not bad-mouthed either experience, despite the bad press. In fact, he says that the bombs were perhaps "a blessing in disguise."

Kitsch could consider another bright side to his box-office misfortune: he probably won't be asked to carry a movie any time soon. That means he can focus on more ensemble roles like "Savages" and his upcoming Navy SEAL thriller "Lone Survivor" (also directed by Berg), which costars Mark Wahlberg and Ben Foster.

Kitsch should also hook up with a director who sees beyond the lantern jaw and chiseled abs, because he's actually quite funny.

"A lot of what I remember him doing well as Tim Riggins is that he was very funny in a natural, understand way," said Chaney, who contributed to "A Friday Night Lights Companion: Love, Loss and Football in Dillon, Texas." "He needs to find some way to tap into that, because all of the movies he's done so far have been serious."

We're still gunning for that rumored "Friday Night Lights" reboot.