He affirms that exuberant, good-natured entertainment need not come at the price of depth and acumen.
By Sheryl Oh · Published on September 19th, 2021
Welcome to Filmographies, a column for completists. Every edition brings a working actor’s resumé into focus as we learn about what makes them so compelling. In this entry, we spotlight the filmography of Wyatt Russell.
For Wyatt Russell, avoiding the towering silhouettes of his Hollywood royalty roots was always going to be tough. One look at the former pro hockey player recalls the chiseled intensity of his action hero father and the blonde bubbliness of his comedienne mother.
Russell marches to the beat of his own drum, though. In addition to his effortless happy-go-lucky charm and persistent heart, the best roles in his resumé noticeably tout insightful dramatic poignancy.
This edition of Filmographies peels back the layers of Russell’s most noteworthy projects, unearthing the distinguished, gutsy choices of a multifaceted star worth watching.
We Are What We Are (2013)
Jim Mickle’s remake We Are What We Are marks Wyatt Russell’s first substantial big-screen appearance. The film tells the morbid tale of the Parkers, a ritualistic cannibal family hiding in plain sight in sleepy, small-town America.
Russell dons the role of the sweet and well-meaning Deputy Anders, a fresh-faced police officer with romantic ties to one of the clan’s daughters. Everything about the character, from his boyish good looks to his supposedly virtuous job choice, is so normal.
Any other premise would write Anders off as forgettable. However, his ordinariness and unblemished earnestness are practically aspirational for the dysfunctional Parker household. Kind, patient, and respectful, he offers a reprieve from the oppressively tense atmosphere of the movie.
Russell completely sells Anders’ redemptive qualities, making the monstrosities of We Are What We Are all the more palpable.
22 Jump Street (2014)
Wyatt Russell’s quest to battle prepackaged archetypes officially started with the side-splitting, trope-heavy 22 Jump Street.
Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s gleeful buddy cop sequel catches up with 21 Jump Street‘s undercover duo as they head off to college. Channing Tatum’s obtuse lead soon cozies up to Russell’s frat boy character, Zook, who may be dangerously familiar with a formidable drug dealer on campus.
Lord and Miller’s meta storytelling redeems cheesy characters like Zook. The man’s favorite activities include working out, partying, and tossing a football around, for crying out loud.
Russell shares his liveliest, most dynamic scenes with Tatum, fostering wholesome hilarious chemistry. Together, the pair shine as responsive performers indulging in and subverting our expectations of their personas.
That said, Zook’s apparent harmlessness concurrently hints at his purposeful fatuousness. Russell constantly keeps us guessing, proving to be an utter delight and a perfect fit for the ludicrous Jump Street universe.
Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)
Wyatt Russell has a peculiar — but noteworthy — role in Everybody Wants Some!!. One of many richly-crafted Richard Linklater films to examine masculine coming-of-age, the bombastic and irreverent period comedy tracks the sex-fueled escapades of a college baseball team living under one roof.
Russell is Willoughby, an older teammate whose stoned bro persona stands in stark contrast to the boisterousness of his colleagues. In depicting the mellowest dude in the film, Russell often finds himself in less egregious comedic territory.
That doesn’t automatically mean that he has little to do or serves as some moral compass for the ensemble. Russell brings an unmatched brand of absurdity to the proceedings to balance out everyone else’s unwieldy, over-the-top shenanigans. While the other boys in the film luxuriate in braggadocio, we tend to spot him perched in a neutral zone, waxing philosophical with a joint or beer in hand.
Willoughby is far from proper, yet Russell manages to funnel wisdom through unique juvenility. Of all the colorful folks in Everybody Wants Some!!, Willoughby is the ultimate dudebro who positively embraces the mantra of good vibes.
Folk Hero & Funny Guy (2016)
Folk Hero & Funny Guy presents Wyatt Russell as a leading man, putting his bona fide musical talents on full display. He stars as Jason Black, the film’s eponymous singer who embarks on a cross-country solo tour, hiring his struggling comedian pal as the opening act.
Russell confidently and charismatically embodies Jason’s front-facing image. Blonde, bearded, and usually barefoot, he almost comically fits the bill of your average millennial folk singer — at least, visually. Russell certainly has the robust guitar and vocal chops that legitimize Jason’s success.
On the flip side, Jason exhibits an undercurrent of restlessness and self-doubt that hinder his interpersonal relationships. They peek through his devil-may-care celebrity facade in the form of erratic decision-making.
The impulsivity does inspire frustration from Jason’s friends and the film’s audience alike. To Russell’s credit, a sense of impassioned genuineness permeates his entire performance. These impeccable modulations create an idolized folk hero who is just yearning for kinship beyond the superficial.
Black Mirror (2016)
Wyatt Russell briefly dabbled in the horror genre here and there, most notably in some Walking Dead webisodes. But he finally added an undoubtedly credible project to his spine-chilling slate with the Black Mirror episode “Playtest.”
Russell plays the unwitting Cooper, a regular Joe who finds himself stuck in a labyrinth of horrors during an individualized augmented reality (AR) video game trial. On the surface, the character is possibly the most convivial man alive. Sadly, his affability masks a swath of trauma that he is unwilling to tackle.
The game in question mines its scares from players’ memories and experiences, and Cooper must eventually contend with a terrifying state of internal reckoning. Russell is rivetingly instinctual and reactive as he devolves from a confident, spontaneous charmer into an empty shell whose identity is in shambles.
Per “Playtest” director Dan Trachtenberg, Russell’s initial casting even elevated Cooper into a more sympathetic hero. Effusive, personable, and brimming with comedic prowess, Russell is the ideal empathetic conduit for this technological cautionary tale.
Ingrid Goes West (2017)
In Ingrid Goes West, Wyatt Russell transforms into Ezra O’Keefe — the textbook all-American hubby to a successful online influencer. An aspiring visual artist, he inadvertently becomes collateral damage when the film’s unhinged protagonist begins stalking his moderately-famous wife.
Ezra doesn’t easily earn our affection off the bat. He annoyingly encompasses many extreme clichés of privileged millennial culture — hipster clothes and man-bun included.
His own professional mediocrity notwithstanding, Ezra boasts unvetted intellectual superiority regarding art and culture. Moreover, he happily reaps the benefits of his Insta-famous beau’s shallow, insular lifestyle, despite turning his nose up at social media.
Russell imbues Ezra with an alchemical mixture of willful ignorance and vexed self-awareness to offset all of the above. Part of him visibly wrestles with the less palatable elements of his veneer. Russell brings organic, mercurial honesty to Ezra that feels strangely accessible.
Table 19 (2017)
The unexpectedly sweet Table 19 is a standout among Wyatt Russell’s more traditional romance fare. His prior work in the genre comprised throwaway scenes in Judd Apatow’s This is 40 and Love and Honor.
Table 19 centers on the lovelorn Eloise, who elects to attend her oldest friend’s wedding even though she’s been relieved of her duties as maid of honor. Evidently, Teddy (Russell) — brother to the bride, best man, and the shitty guy who ended his two-year relationship with Eloise for no discernible reason — is wholly to blame.
And so viewers are immediately primed to hate Teddy. Russell and the film’s lead, Anna Kenrick, go through the awkward motions of an ex-couple reunited. Their arresting chemistry and combative personalities result in grueling yet admittedly understandable instances of miscommunication.
Subsequent epiphanies about Teddy’s true feelings simultaneously elicit “aw”s and induce facepalms. In typical escapist rom-com fashion, we suspend our disbelief about his faults in order to forgive him. Notably, Russell expedites that process by channeling his inner himbo. Teddy is a stubborn goofball, but then again, so is the love of his life.
Goon: Last of the Enforcers (2017)
Wyatt Russell’s later 2017 releases — Shimmer Lake and Goon: Last of the Enforcers — seem cut from the same cloth. Both films cast him as troublingly nefarious men, only for these impressions to morph into something worth pitying. Unfortunately for Russell, Shimmer Lake gives him minute screentime amid a confounding, devoid plot.
Meanwhile, his stint as the childishly mean Anders Cain in the Goon sequel is ferocious and dedicated. The character acts as the diametrically opposite foe to the movie’s soft-hearted hero, eschewing fair play for violent outbursts. To worsen matters, Cain is socially stunted and utterly unpersonable, leaving him painfully awkward regardless of his ruthless behavior.
Does Last of the Enforcers lack the soulfulness that made Goon a success? Yes. The sequel incorporates a subplot about Cain longing for acknowledgment and affection from his dad, but it is rather unsubstantial. If anything, those who are used to seeing a more chilled-out Russell get the treat of him letting loose — no holds barred — with unbridled, gruesome vigor.
Ironically, one of Wyatt Russell’s most serious roles comes from the pulpy alternate history gorefest Overlord. He trudges through grime and grit in the war-weathered boots of Corporal Ford.
Russell’s surly and mission-oriented soldier leads a small platoon of Allied paratroopers into German-occupied France on the eve of D-Day. However, a waking nightmare of blood-curdling Nazi experiments lies behind enemy lines.
Surprisingly, this shocking turn of events barely throws the agile, quick-thinking Ford off course. Although a taciturn man of few words, he admirably keeps his troops from completely unraveling. Russell adopts a gratifying sardonic weariness throughout the film, which means Ford gets to deliver some killer lines and kick the shit out of some Nazis.
A near-second-nature bond is established between Ford and Jovan Adepo’s Pfc. Boyce, which greatly informs the former’s inner demons and motivations. Boyce challenges Ford’s unsettling brutality, questioning his reticence to emotionally engage with the morality of their operation. Together, Russell and Adepo forge an excellent tag team that is so easy to root for.
Lodge 49 (2018-2019)
AMC’s tragically short-lived Lodge 49 was a real game-changer for Wyatt Russell. He headlines the quirky ensemble as Dud, a cheerful meandering ex-surfer at a crossroads in life. Mystical fate soon draws him towards the titular chapter of an ancient fraternal order, revealing an eccentric commune that could hold the key to his future.
Dud is a splendid confluence of Russell’s disarming bros of yore. Chronically unambitious, he enjoys the simple things in life and champions a free-thinking perception of personal fulfillment that we cannot help but treasure.
Dud also happens to be a patently compassionate soul — indiscriminate and loving in spite of the wounded underbelly he carries. Russell intuitively employs heartbreaking subtlety, naturalistically morphing Dud’s signature gentleness into sobering depictions of unresolved personal trauma.
Russell has never been more adorable or entertaining than he is spreading the whimsical self-love gospel of Lodge 49. Through Dud, he exemplifies a unique incandescent spirit, becoming synonymous with unconventional honorability and optimism.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021)
Going by Marvel fans’ decidedly icy reception of John Walker in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, you’d think he was the absolute worst character in Wyatt Russell’s oeuvre.
Now infamously recognized as everyone’s least favorite iteration of Captain America, the actor deserves ample praise for impeccably sowing seeds of dissent on MCU grounds.
Because the Captain America series — while already intricately fulfilling — must further deconstruct its ostensibly dogmatic symbol for a modern age. Russell’s staunch depiction of Walker demonstrates how misguided and egotistical men rush to claim Cap’s mighty moniker without realizing what it means to be truly worthy.
Walker’s eagerness to live up to Steve Rogers’s legacy marks his greatest weakness — a potential benevolence so tainted by a selfish white saviorism. Russell expertly personifies the character’s insecurities through an overbearing portrayal of sincerity that purely rubs us the wrong way.
Walker’s ill-placed ardor repels us. He is pretty damn embarrassing trying to “earn” — read: steal — a seat at the hero table after misinterpreting the rules. Yet, that is precisely why I think Russell turns in one of the most fascinating and engaging performances in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. He uncomfortably turns a mirror back onto a system in desperate need of a revamp.
The Woman in the Window and the future
More dubious antagonists have seeped into Wyatt Russell’s resumé over the years. His reunion with Jim Mickle in the just-okay crime-thriller Cold in July produces his most detestable character to date. A more recent venture — Joe Wright’s regrettably underwhelming The Woman in the Window — showcases a standoffish, aggressive version of Russell to a degree.
I can’t say that Wyatt Russell’s filmography doesn’t have any misses or random points of stagnation (I struggle to fit Blaze and The Good Lord Bird into this piece). However, this deep-dive only determines just how exhilarating and satisfying it is to witness his oeuvre take shape.
Whether Russell epitomizes heroes or villains, they are all the more remarkable due to his unabashed enthusiasm and commitment to nuanced characterization. Much of his resumé is also just blatantly enjoyable, with numerous comedic offerings totally deserving of a spot in everyone’s comfort watchlists. (Seriously, why did you cancel Lodge 49, AMC?)
Staying hyped for Russell’s upcoming FX miniseries Under the Banner of Heaven isn’t a problem. He is consciously curating a commendable, enduring collection of projects, and we’re here for whatever comes next.
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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let’s be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects’ Filmographies column as a passion project. She’s not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)