He weighs in at 83kg, 185cm tall and he’s the male acting equivalent of Anne Hathaway. A figure that’s often derided by critics for his apparent absence of talent, Channing Tatum is a by-word for “tries hard but lacks natural ability”. This is outright heresy. It’s time to look past the pecs and realise that one of Hollywood’s brightest talents and stars is here, stealing scenes, delivering laughs time after time after time.
Let’s go back to 2008. Hollywood has turned against the Iraq War. Lions for Lambs, Rendition, Redacted, Grace Is Gone, In the Valley of Elah and Stop-Loss; all suffered the same indignation with heavy box office losses and a lukewarm critical reception. In particular, Stop-Loss, the Ryan Phillipe blockbuster/Oscar runaway train promptly derailed and disappeared. However out of the disappointing squib, a star emerges. Having returned from combat and the accidental murder of Iraqi civilians, Sgt Steve Shirver (Tatum) is struggling with all-consuming PTSD. Unable to cope, Shriver gets drunk, heads to the front yard, digs a foxhole and strikes his fiancée. In a film that’s largely been forgotten, Tatum’s angry, mournful and brutal turn transforms preachy into striking.
This was no fluke. Tatum’s CV shines with an impressive intensity and highlights his affinity with dramatic roles. In Magic Mike, he’s soulful and impressively naturalistic. Although weakly plotted, he’s surprisingly heartbreaking and brings real chemistry with Rachel McAdams in The Vow. In A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, Tatum funnels young Marlon Brando to deliver an electrifying and searing performance blowing Shia LaBeouf and Robert Downey Jr. off the screen. As Vulture point out, this was eclipsed by dance-filled phenomenon Step Up yet even then, his performance – although cheesy – gave the film energy and highlighted his impressive talent for dance. The hubbub surrounding Foxcatcher should not be due to a surprising spurt of ‘acting’ from Tatum. It should be celebrated as the pinnacle of his dramatic career so far.
However, his greatest strength is comedy. He’s a 90s Will Smith, an 80s Tom Cruise, a 70s Robert Redford or even a 50s Cary Grant and in the 10s, it’s the time for the Tatum. Fully aware of his audience’s preconceptions of him, he plays off them to deliver what the film needs. With his dramatic roles, he tries to push against these expectations. In comedy, he thrives upon them. She’s The Man, his breakout role, is childish and silly but it’s an underrated gem. Tatum’s standout cool person guide to opening your phone scene is frankly hilarious and director Andy Fickman admitted he largely ad-libbed the scene. Better yet, this comedic aptitude has now found its perfect home in the Jump Street franchise.
Dumb, loud and downright silly, Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s reboot has been an unstoppable commercial and critical success. This can be attributed in part to the talent and chemistry of Tatum and Jonah Hill. It’s an impressive feat that Tatum more than holds his own against the ‘comedic’ talent of Hill. Ryan Gibley, of The New Statesmen, delivers a gorgeous quote in his review of 22 Jump Street that perfectly surmises Tatum and how he has developed “into a joyous comic actor, coasting on perfumed clouds of oblivious delirium.” In each of his more ‘Hollywood’ blockbusters, romances and comedies, Tatum can be relied upon to bring this joy. A good one-liner here, a perfectly delivered quip there, the big actor is the latest version of the Hollywood star. Whilst Smith, Cruise, Redford and Grant have passed/passed through this phase, Tatum has taken up this title and is the king of reliable joy.
It’s possible to accuse Tatum of playing the same role in every movie but that’s not true or fair. Tatum is constantly trying to evolve his talents, and applies himself wholly to any role he takes on. However if you’re still not convinced, take a look at the likes of George Clooney, Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne; they are hardly renowned for variety within their cannon. Granted these actors may have more quantifiable talent but surely it’s better to be aware of your weaknesses and thrive upon your strengths. Case in point: Channing Tatum.
The man harks back to a classic star of old as he manages to be all things to all people. As the handsome romantic lead, he’s reliable, charming and heartfelt. As the chisel jawed American hero, he’s believable, enjoyable and can hold a film upon his shoulders. As the dramatic lead, he’s got depth, warmth and credibility. Channing Tatum is the film equivalent of a Swiss Army knife. In any situation, in any environment, Tatum provides what you need and impresses you with the style in which he does it.
The list of modern day actors and actresses that can achieve this is limited at best. Looking at his future projects, it’s clear we’re not alone in this thought. Taking the action lead in the Wachowski’s ambitious sci-fi Jupiter Ascending, adding in the charming vocals to The Book of Life and Fox have now shouldered him with the role of Gambit in X-Men: Apocalypse and his own standalone film. Tatum can take the responsibility with audience & producers safe in the knowledge that Channing Tatum is a good, reliable actor and we’re in for a good time.