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The many faces of Dunkirk star Cillian Murphy

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Versatile Irish star Cillian Murphy makes his fifth appearance in a Christopher Nolan film when he joins the ensemble cast of upcoming awards magnet Dunkirk. Why does Nolan rate him so highly? Here's our selection of his finest film performances, which should provide a clue or two.

28 Days Later

Danny Boyle's post-apocalyptic, zombies-on-speed horror wasn't Murphy's debut, but it did mark his arrival as a major screen talent. As cycle courier Jim, who awakes from a coma in a central London hospital to find that virtually the entire population of the UK has been wiped out, he succeeds magnificently in portraying the character's initial trauma and subsequent transformation into a zombie-battling hero.


Batman Begins

For his first collaboration with Christopher Nolan, Murphy was nearly cast as Batman himself. But it was decided that he wasn't right for the role. Good move, because otherwise we'd have been denied his sinister Scarecrow – an insane psychopharmacologist who uses powdered toxins to expose his victims’ darkest fears.

Murphy avoids OTT theatrics in his menacing performance, which chimes perfectly with Nolan's social realist tone. He reprised the role briefly in The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises.


Red Eye

Wes Craven's taut and clever low-budget psychological thriller sees Murphy on top form as the handsome, superficially charming man who is seated, apparently by chance, next to unfortunate Rachel McAdams on a red-eye flight to Miami. After some initial flirting, he reveals his true colours as ruthless manipulator who has lured her into a deadly trap.


Breakfast on Pluto

Neil Jordan's comedy-drama provides Murphy with an opportunity to demonstrate his remarkable versatility as camp, flamboyant, cross-dressing Patrick 'Kitten' Braden. It's also your only opportunity to see him in a dress.

To prepare for the role, he sought out a real-life transvestite who agreed to dress him up and take him clubbing.


The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Ken Loach's Palme d'Or-winning fictional portrayal of the Irish struggle for independence in the early 1920s gave Murphy a peach of a role as a young, apolitical medical student whose experiences lead him to join his brother's IRA brigade.

He's quite mesmerising as this gentle soul who loses his innocence after becoming drawn into the armed struggle.


Sunshine

The 28 Days Later team of director Danny Boyle, writer Alex Garland and star Cillian Murphy reunited for this ambitious, Solaris-style science fiction flick in which only Michelle Yeoh and the typically engaging Murphy managed to avoid be upstaged by the special effects.

Murphy's character is a hunky physicist hero, while the film's scientific advisor was real-life hunky physicist hero Brian Cox.


Inception

As the businessman in whose noggin Leonard DiCaprio and his team tinker, Murphy has a modest but pivotal role in Christopher Nolan's sci-fi mind-bender.


Perrier's Bounty

Murphy frequently returns home to Ireland for roles in smaller movies, and there's been none better in recent years than Ian Fitzgibbon's sweary, violent black comedy.

As lowlife loser Michael McCrea, who's in hock to Dublin’s scariest loan shark Darren Perrier (Brendan Gleeson) to the tune of €1,000, a suitably stubbly Murphy succeeds in making the character rather more sympathetic than he has any right to be.


Anthropoid

Back in true-life period drama mode, Murphy plays one of two Czechoslovakian soldiers who embark on a dangerous mission to assassinate the SS officer who's the chief architect of the Final Solution. He carries the film as the most intense and committed member of the team.


Free Fire

Murphy plays an IRA man once again and sports a magnificent seventies moustache in Ben Wheatley's blackly comic, ultra-violent shootout flick. He's also the nearest we get to a hero as the bullets start to fly.



You can see more of Cillian Murphy when Dunkirk opens on 21 July.


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