It’s hard to make Armie Hammer look bad. If one were to generate an IRL Ken doll, it would look just like him: tall, muscled, and conventionally handsome. And yet it appears that with Netflix’s Rebecca, adapted from Daphne du Maurier’s acclaimed novel of the same name, director Ben Wheatley sought the challenge of making Hammer as unappealing as possible. Here he is, as the newly widowed Maxim de Winter, looking less like an eligible bachelor and more like a high-end condiment spokesperson.
Hammer’s garish suit is a perfect prelude to what ends up being a wholly uninspired remake. Rebecca was already adapted, in 1940, into a Best Picture–winning film by none other than Alfred Hitchcock, so the bar was virtually impossible to clear—if nothing else, the Netflix update could have differentiated itself by, for example, turning some of the novel’s queer subtext into, well, text. But in Wheatley’s hands, Rebecca is simply given a bland, Instagrammable sheen. It would be unfair to single out Hammer’s performance as the problem in a movie with many unredeemable qualities, but Rebecca is certainly a career lowlight: Unconvincing British accent notwithstanding, his Maxim de Winter has none of the requisite charm or mystery essential to the character. He feels like a cipher—or, frankly, a fancy-looking Ken doll in dire need of a makeover.
Hammer himself could use a reset. Following the buzzy success of Call Me by Your Name, which catapulted Timothée Chalamet into stardom and provided Hammer with his best role since there were two of him in The Social Network, his career hasn’t taken off as expected. (Whenever Hammer does a press tour for a new release, some questions inevitably end up being about the Call Me by Your Name sequel that is eventually supposed to happen.) The issue, it seems, is that Hammer is cast in roles that misuse—or misunderstand—his skill set and the potential of his imposing on-screen presence.
Hollywood has no shortage of attractive actors, but not all of them are meant to be traditional movie stars. Justin Theroux is a weird character actor trapped in a leading man’s shredded body; Chris Hemsworth is an amazing comedic presence who just so happens to be swole enough to deadlift other human beings; Tom Cruise is in many ways a conventional movie star, but he’s also afflicted with a desire to always run and to risk his life doing increasingly dangerous stunts; you get the idea. Hammer seems to find the most success when filmmakers manage to weaponize those good looks while casting the actor as a deviant figure.
Consider Sorry to Bother You. Boots Riley’s bizarro anticapitalist black comedy employs Hammer as Steve Lift, the CEO of a company called WorryFree that’s essentially a Silicon Valley startup on steroids. (For free room and board, you must accept indentured servitude.) Lift is the kind of shitty rich guy who wears a sarong and a blazer—and, regrettably, pulls it off. In the third act of the film (spoilers ahead), Lift tells rising telemarketer Cash Green (LaKeith Stanfield) of his grand design: WorryFree has created a formula that can turn its workers into “equisapiens”—a.k.a. horse people. Lift wants to make the divide between the wealthy elite and the working class even more stark—also, he hopes that equisapiens will be more efficient and complain less than his current, non-horselike workforce.
Sorry to Bother You’s horse people reveal is one of those WTF twists you never would’ve seen coming, and Hammer completely sells the moment, playing Lift with the right balance between maniacal, coked-out glee and unnerving levelheadedness. That Hammer himself comes from an incredibly privileged background only adds to the feeling that Steve Lift—and by extension, the Winklevoss twins of The Social Network—is exactly the sort of role that he was born to play. He still gets to embrace his movie star good looks, but uses his handsomeness as a cover for something more sinister. Forget Prince Charming: Armie Hammer is the perfect, archetypal, cutthroat (and, of course, white) business mogul. Unfortunately, the only thing that Maxim de Winter has in common with Lift—at least in how Hammer plays him—is the character’s obscene net worth.
It’s not the only use of Hammer’s talents, but even the roles that go against the affluent asshole grain contain elements of that mischievous nature. As Oliver in Call Me by Your Name, Hammer is unquestionably charming and empathetic, but also a little cocky and liable to strut out of conversations saying “Later!” (And we haven’t even addressed the peach.) The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Guy Ritchie’s underrated, sequel-warranting spy caper, has fun playing against Hammer’s rigidity in his role as a KGB operative. Another note to Rebecca and future Hammer collaborators: If you want to give the dude real sex appeal, look no further than his on-screen chemistry with Man From U.N.C.L.E. costar Alicia Vikander.
Hammer, just because of his looks alone, shouldn’t have a problem continuing to carve out a serviceable career in Hollywood. His next release, Death on the Nile, is, like Rebecca, a period piece that gives him an eccentric wardrobe to flex. (Going off the trailer alone, it’s at least a step up from Fancy Colonel Mustard.) But when he’s not fending off our collective clamoring for updates on Call Me by Your Name: The Second Coming (sorry), the actor can still level up in other areas of his filmography. In the right hands, Armie Hammer embracing the fact that he looks like a caricature of a smarmy rich dude doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I’m not sorry to bother him until he accepts that.