You Don’t Know Poe: Five Great Oscar Isaac Performances

Nick Nunziata

To those who only know Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron from Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, you are missing out. In actuality the actor’s worst performance to date may be as the talented Resistance pilot, though it’s still a terrific bit of work. Oscar Isaac is nothing less than the modern day Al Pacino — and not the Al Pacino making substandard movies today. I’m talking the Pacino of old, the best actor of his generation — which is what Oscar Isaac is. His body of work in the short time he’s been around has been filled with exemplary performances of depth and subtlety.

To gain full understanding of this, here are five performances by Issac everyone should see.

1. Ex Machina


Alex Garland’s film is a cult classic already and time will only buttress that claim. Oscar Issac’s portrayal of eccentric and manipulative billionaire Nathan Bateman is mysterious, engaging, and at times both hilarious and tragic. It showcases the actor at his best, loaded with sex appeal backed by ample menace. It’s also led to an internet meme based on the dance number that is both the funniest scene in the movie and also a pivotal one that leads the film into darkness.

Warning: F-bomb in the clip.


2. Inside Llewyn Davis


The Coen Brothers don’t make bad movies. They do make complex ones, and for every broadly entertaining film they make like True Grit or Raising Arizona, there’s always a Barton Fink or Inside Llewyn Davis to counterbalance. The folk-music film is a showcase for Isaac both an actor and as a musician, and though there’s a deliberate pace and somber tone to the proceedings, it’s a richly rewarding experience — especially upon repeat viewing. It also hopefully sets the stage for another pairing of filmmakers and actor, because Isaac has every tool needed to sell the Coen magic onscreen.

Just how talented is Isaac? Watch this rehearsal performance from the actor from the movie’s companion documentary Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis.

Warning: Folk music in the clip.


3. Show Me a Hero


HBO’s Show Me a Hero is an old-school drama that when viewed superficially seems like a slog, due to the pacing and overall low-key choice of material, but the devil is in the details. Isaac’s work as mayoral candidate Nick Wasicsko represents his first chance to develop a character in long form, and it is stunning. He won a Golden Globe for his work, and it’s obvious why. The man is riveting whether at his desk having a polite conversation or sparring in the political arena. Great stuff.

Warning: 70’s hairstyles in the clip.


4. A Most Violent Year


Jessica Chastain is doing her part to be recognized as the female counterpart to Oscar Issac when it comes down to the best actors of their generation, and A Most Violent Year puts the two together in a Sidney Lumet-style ’70s era drama that demands the best of them. And they deliver. It’s a film that takes its sweet time and, despite the title, boasts very little in the way of action or violence. But it’s rich and compelling in a way that stands head and shoulders above the competition.

Warning: Cleavage in the clip.


5. Drive


Any violence that A Most Violent Year may have been lacking is present in Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn’s crime masterpiece. Isaac is featured in a supporting but pivotal as the father of Carey Mulligan’s child, who gets out of prison just in time to get mixed up in something worse than prison. In what could have easily been a generic tough guy role, Issac creates a multi-faceted and truly sympathetic character.

Warning: Ryan Gosling’s sex appeal in the clip.

Here’s what’s scary: In the next five years, it’s a safe bet assume Oscar Isaac will have delivered five new performances to dethrone these. What a great time to be alive.

Nick Nunziata
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