Rory Kinnear Gave The Best 2022 Performance No One Is Talking About In Men

For all the hallucinatory imagery and intentionally ambiguous messaging in Alex Garland's "Men," actor Rory Kinnear's performance, or performances, are arguably the most memorable component of one of the most disturbing movies of 2022. In a year with a number of fantastic male performances, from Brendan Fraser's heartbreaking English teacher in "The Whale" to Bill Nighy's charmingly stoic Englishman in "Living," Kinnear's devilish depiction of multiple monstrous males in "Men" has remained at the top of my list. 

Well-versed in the plays of Shakespeare and born from the theatre, Kinnear is probably best known as the MI6 bureaucrat Bill Tanner in the James Bond franchise, or perhaps as the British Prime Minister forced to fornicate with a pig in the first episode of "Black Mirror." Kinnear also put his theatre training to great use in Showtime's "Penny Dreadful" in a wonderfully nuanced performance as Frankenstein's Creature. 

There is a lot to digest and take away from Garland's folkloric horror movie, but it's hard to imagine walking away from "Men" without acknowledging Kinnear's fierce commitment to what is surely the strangest and, possibly, the most demanding acting challenge of the year. Tasked with playing a multiplicity of roles, Kinnear was required to stalk, crawl, scream and wail through a series of nine different characters that all have little to no redeeming qualities. He also had to appear completely nude and convincingly pull off playing an ancient, evil archetypal menace known as The Green Man. 

Looking at all of these characters with a closer lens should help to highlight the acting gymnastics that Kinnear underwent in order to deliver the best performance of 2022 that no one is talking about as we enter film awards season.

Geoffrey the smarmy groundskeeper

To offer a quick setup of the story, the character of Geoffrey is the first menace that Harper (Jessie Buckley), the only woman in "Men," encounters during a solo visit to the English countryside. He is the friendly but overbearing groundskeeper overseeing the home that Harper is staying in, appearing helpful at first and concerned with Harper's well-being. Then, he transforms into a sniveling, helicoptering nag that won't leave her alone. 

Kinnear makes Geoffrey the most fully-realized character of the men he portrays and imbues him with a deep-seeded dislike for women that's probably been brewing for some time. Of all the characters that Kinnear plays, Geoffrey has the most screen time and, early on, he sets the stage for all the different threats that Harper is set to encounter throughout the film. If Kinnear would have only played this one character, the subtle transformation he undergoes (thanks to some great makeup and hair touches) would have already been memorable. Kinnear makes him just likable enough to be viewed as harmless, even if he does seem sheltered and impersonable. 

Geoffrey's the perfect character to be introduced to first because he foreshadows the encroaching threats to come. In addition, the subtle prosthetic work sets up all of Kinnear's different looks and personalities that we're later introduced to. For all the horror seen in the monstrous finale, Geoffrey may actually be the scariest character Harper (Jessie Buckley) encounters in "Men."

Samuel the two-faced boy

Kinnear even appears as an incredibly creepy teen boy named Samuel in what is technically a dual performance with another actor named Zak Rothera-Oxley. Seeing the actor, who is in his early forties, with his face super-imposed onto the body of boy is immediately unsettling. It's so unnatural that the look is actually distracting. When Harper refuses to play hide-and-seek with Samuel, Kinnear's CGI face suddenly scowls and he shouts sexist obscenities that should not be coming out of any kid's mouth. 

Samuel doesn't have a lot of time to shine in "Men," but that didn't stop Kinnear from creating an entire backstory for him along with all the other characters. In an interview with /Film, Kinnear described his process, revealing just how much time he spent crafting each role: 

"What was nice about the process is, having been attached to it for several months, that one had had the time to sort of investigate and create all the different characters, hopefully with the same level of sort of depth and integrity as each one. So I'd created biographies for each one, even if I knew one was only going to [have] a minimal amount of screen time, you wanted them not to leap out as not being as connected as the others."

Guaranteed, no other actor in 2022 gave that kind of dedication or had to do that much preparation for their performance. Kinnear was on an entirely different level, making his experience wholly unique. 

The manipulative vicar

Mistakenly, Harper opens up to an attentive church vicar, who proceeds to use her confessional as a weapon against her. Next to Geoffrey, the vicar character has the most amount of time with Harper, and Kinnear makes him a dynamic force in Garland's film. With only a clergy robe and a silver wig, Kinnear becomes another complex character that has to deliver some important moments to help cement some of the religious themes found in "Men." 

The vicar is also a key figure that represents an ultimate betrayal when he turns Harper's words against her. Using his natural likability, Kinnear puts Harper and the audience at ease, using the stereotype of an understanding priest to lull us into a sense of comfort. Then, he lashes out, showing the underbelly of anger and resentment that he holds towards Harper, and presumably, all women. It's such a provocative scene between Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear that sends the rest of the film into motion. 

The silliness of seeing Kinnear's adult face on the boy Samuel in this same sequence is, admittedly, a little laughable. It takes you out of the film a bit, and the risk that Kinnear is taking playing all of these different characters starts to show. But the vicar is such a "real" character that the trick suddenly starts to work again. 

The constable and the pub regulars

When Harper visits the local pub later that night, it's the local constable that grounds the next group of bar patrons that Kinnear has to convincingly pull off. In one tricky sequence, Kinnear plays the constable, two macho regulars of the bar, and the bartender behind the counter. According to Kinnear, it was the most challenging section of the entire film to wrap his head around. Telling /Film

"So obviously the pub sequence was challenging because you were playing multiple people in the same day and having to sort of keep your head and wits around you, and not let one character bleed into the next. 

And also you had stand-ins playing the other characters, so that was a sort of 'Inception'-style mind bend to try and ... But I think probably more crazy for Jessie than necessarily for me because I was able to sort of concentrate on each one that I was doing."

Another reason why this sequence is so riveting comes from its unique place in a horror film. Usually, playing multiple roles in the same scene is reserved for over-the-top comedic performances by Eddie Murphy in "The Nutty Professor" or Michael Keaton in the VFX-heavy film "Multiplicity." Kinnear got the opportunity to give a serious performance in Garland's "Men" that puts him in rarified air as a dramatic actor. 

The Green Man and the final transformation sequence

Kinnear's physicality is on display when he becomes the ancient character known as The Green Man, a mystic personification of nature that serves as the main source of hatred embodied in all of the other male characters. Part plant and part man, Kinnear's depiction of The Green Man borders on performance art. He contorts his body in unexpected ways as he stalks and hunts Harper during the truly unbelievable finale of "Men." Kinnear is literally playing a force of nature, using the opportunity to act like an ageless, unstoppable murderer. 

Then, in a spectacular effects sequence inspired by John Carpenter's "The Thing" and Hajime Isayama's "Attack on Titan," Kinnear goes into labor for what is about to be a very unnatural birth that excretes all of the men that Harper has battled throughout the entire film. It's disgusting, hauntingly beautiful, and ultimately, a little pathetic. Upending the idea of a classic-style monster attack, each male iteration is weaker than the last. Harper starts out being terrified, only to realize she's being chased by something that really isn't threatening at all. 

In one film, Rory Kinnear portrays monstrous men who then actually become the monster. The multiple transformations he undergoes represent a singular acting challenge that very few artists are able to achieve. Sometimes, incredible acting can be slightly diminished in a director-focused project like "Men" that focuses so much energy on delivering whatever message Alex Garland intended. There's also a little less attention paid to a tour de force performance like this when the film itself isn't widely considered one of the best films of the year. Regardless, Rory Kinnear has proven he is one of this generation's most gifted actors, and there is no other performance like his in any other movie in 2022.