Best performances by Ben Foster, from The Messenger to Leave No Trace

Ben Foster is one of those actors who unfortunately seems to end up on “underrated” lists for the rest of his career. Foster has proven his versatility for more than two decades, but his new projects aren’t met with the fervent anticipation they deserve. Maybe it’s because Foster is apparently everywhere. Whether he’s starring in a Sundance title or appearing in the set of a big-budget project, Foster rarely puts on a bad performance. Foster first announced himself in a pair of ill-fated superhero movies: 2004 The Punisher and 2006 X-Men: The Last Stand. None of the movies were very good, but Foster still turned in respectable performances. Over the next decade, Foster continued to appear in a wide range of projects across many genres, regardless of their eventual quality. He is one of the best living actors who has yet to receive his first Oscar nomination.


Foster works frequently, and this year he will be seen on HBO’s The survivorthe action thriller The contractorthe historical epic Medieval, Antoine Fuqathe new movie Emancipationand Adam SandlerNetflix’s latest vehicle Hustle. As we approach another year of presumably excellent performances from Foster, be sure to check out his seven biggest roles.

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Charlie Prince in 3:10 for Yuma (2007)

Image via Lionsgate

3h10 to Yuma is one of the few remakes of a classic Western that actually improves on the original. While the 1957 3h10 to Yuma is a landmark in the golden age of Hollywood westerns, James MangoldThe 2007 remake does a better job of fleshing out the moral dilemmas the characters face. The film follows rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale)a wounded ex-serviceman who agrees to take on the ruthless outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) in prison. When Wade’s top lieutenant, Charlie Prince (Foster), begins pursuing them, Wade and Evans are forced to team up. Foster shows Prince’s devotion to his boss and the challenges he faces when both of their loyalties come into question.

Will Montgomery in The Messenger (2009)

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Image via Oscilloscope Labs

On the rare occasion that Foster is granted a starring role in a mainstream film, it always seems to knock it out of the park. The military drama of 2009 The messenger explores a grueling story of servicemen who must deal with their post-traumatic stress disorder while performing a difficult task. Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Foster) is assigned to a new casualty reporting officer position alongside Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson); they must explain unbearable news to the families of men killed in action. While Harrelson was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars, Foster was sadly overlooked for his equally captivating work.

Lance Armstrong in The Program (2015)

Image via StudioCanal

The program should have been the film that launched Foster into the awards conversation. Playing Lance Armstrong in a biopic centered on highlights of his doping scandal seemed like a safe bet, but unfortunately Stephen Frears‘ the movie didn’t quite live up to expectations. While the film glosses over the more interesting details, Foster is nonetheless phenomenal. It shows the public face that Foster puts on as her media image changes over time.

Richard Livesey in The Beautiful Hours (2016)

Picture via Disney

The good times was the first of what are now three collaborations between Foster and Chris Pine. The two are natural screen partners; they both carry a sensitivity towards them that is distinct from other prominent men of their generation. The good times is ironically a very underrated film about an act of historical heroism that is not widely known. In the most ambitious rescue in US Coast Guard history, Boston Sailors Bernie Webber (Pine) and Richard Livesy (Foster) hatch a daring plan to save the crew of a ship torn apart by a storm in the off Cape Cod. Both Pine and Foster are respectful in portraying the real characters; they show the casual decency of these heroes.

Tanner Howard in Hell or High Water (2016)

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Image via Lionsgate

Against all odds is one of the most entertaining and surprisingly nuanced neo-noir Westerns of recent decades. Scriptwriter Taylor Sheridan crafted a heist thriller that explored the impacts greedy Texas Midland banks leave on impoverished communities. Brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Foster) rob a series of banks to pay for their mother’s property; they only take from the banks themselves and do not harm any of the employees. While Toby is restrained and flies only to support his family, Tanner is completely wild and loves the thrill of escape.

Phillip Wills in Hostiles (2017)

Image via Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures

Foster only has a few brief scenes in Scott Cooperit’s from the west Hostile, but it’s one of the most memorable parts of the whole movie. Yes Against all odds reinvented the western for a modern age, Hostile explored the reality of relations between Indigenous peoples and American soldiers. Civil War veteran Captain Blocker (Christian Bale) is tasked with transporting Chief Cheyenne Yellow Hawk (Wes Studio) to its historical homeland. During the long journey, Blocker is forced to pick up dangerous outlaw Phillip Wils (Foster) and transport him as well. Foster shows how Wils and torments the other men. He is able to trick them by faking an illness and trying to escape.

Will in Leave No Trace (2018)

Image via Bleecker Street

Leave no trace is a powerful film that shines a light on an underrepresented group. Debra GranicThe acclaimed indie film follows former veteran Will (Foster), who battled PTSD and struggles to express his pain. Will lives off the grid in a forest with his young daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie); they are completely self-sufficient and have learned to survive in the desert. After being discovered by the Park Rangers, Will and Tom are forced to conform to life in normal society. Foster shows the difficulty Will faces; his whole way of life has been turned upside down and he knows he can take good care of his daughter. Foster and McKenzie do a great job showing how their relationship is changing. As Tom gradually opens up to conformity, Will is determined in his ways.


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Julio V. Miller