It was a tragic irony that Bill Paxton died just before the Academy Awards ceremony this year. By all rights, based strictly on his talent, he should have had an Oscar or at least a nomination during his career. But even when he appeared in a big movie, such as "Titanic," he didn't generally get the roles that would make the Academy take notice. It is indicative of his career as a whole that his one major award--a Screen Actors Guild award--was as being part of the ensemble for "Apollo 13." Even when Paxton was the above-the-title star, it tended to be in shows where he was one of many--"Big Love" and "The Hatfields and McCoys" are cases in point. In the acting world, Paxton was the ultimate team player.
Paxton was such a regular guy in appearance and demeanor that it was easy to forget just how talented he was. For me, the high point of his career was "Frailty," the 2001 thriller he directed and starred in. In "Frailty," Paxton played "Dad" Meiks, an easygoing Texas auto mechanic who, suddenly one night, tells his young sons they are on a mission from God to kill the human devils in their midst. Paxton's friendly, aw-shucks persona provides the appropriate frisson against the ever-bloodier mayhem he commits, and provides just enough indirection to leave the audience gasping at the radical twist the story takes at the end. If Hitchcock and Tobe Hooper had ever collaborated on a movie, and brought in Jorge Luis Borges on the sly for help with the screenplay, the result would have been much like "Frailty." Paxton directed very little after that. I wish he had, because he was a director of formidable gifts.
Bill Paxton died much too young, and having just started a new TV series, "Training Day." It is very odd, and very sad, to think he is no more.