Here’s an interesting tidbit you might not know about Michelle Monaghan: when she was growing up, her parents also took in foster kids to their Winthrop, Iowa home. They raised a solid dozen of them over as many years, and we can’t help but think that being exposed to different people from so many circumstances helped Michelle build the empathy and eye for character that has made her one of our favorite actresses.
To get you ready for Michelle Monaghan’s appearance on this week’s Comedy Bang! Bang!, we put together an extremely biased list of her five best roles. Sorry, Pixels doesn’t make the cut.
5. Harmony Lane, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Shane Black’s demented Hollywood noir is on our short list for most underrated flick of all time. Not only did it bring Robert Downey Jr. back to the big screen as petty criminal turned unwitting detective Harry Lockhart, but it features possibly the best post-Iceman Val Kilmer performance of all time. The third player in the film’s triangle is Michelle Monaghan as Harmony Laine, Harry’s childhood friend all grown up. Harmony is the motor that drives the twisted story of lust and revenge, and she does a bang-up (pun intended) job walking the tightrope between small-town innocence and Los Angeles sleaze.
4. Diane Ford, Trucker
The 2008 indie Trucker might have flown beneath your radar, but you should check it out on Netflix because it’s one of Michelle Monaghan’s finest performances. She plays Diane Ford, a long-haul driver who finds her screwed-up life of getting blitzed and having one-night stands upended when her 10-year-old son comes back into her life. It’s a story that could easily get obvious and cliche, but first-time director James Mottern dodges dramatic pitfalls with the aid of his incredible lead, instead producing a deft character study that is very worth watching.
3. Maggie Hart, True Detective
Season one of the acclaimed HBO crime drama was aided by an incredible cast of actors, including Michelle Monaghan’s Maggie Hart. As one of the key female figures in a very male-dominated show, Maggie has to carry a lot of weight. When we found out halfway through that she’d cheated on her husband (Woody Harrelson) with Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle, it served as a new lens to examine their twisted relationship. It’s a challenging role that Monaghan rises to with aplomb.
2. Christina Warren, Source Code
The premise for the 2011 thriller Source Code is pretty ridiculous — a top secret military project gives Jake Gyllenhaal the ability to travel back in time and re-live the last eight minutes of somebody’s life over and over like the world’s worst Groundhog Day — but the end result is a damn fine film. Michelle Monaghan provides an important emotional anchor as Christina Warren, who Gyllenhaal’s character builds a deeper and deeper connection with every time he loops back. Without her, the whole premise would collapse, and the actress rises to the occasion ably.
1. Julia Meade, Mission: Impossible III
Playing the romantic lead in a Tom Cruise-led spy actioner is a pretty thankless job, but director J. J. Abrams gave Monaghan plenty to chew on as Ethan Hunt’s fiancee Julia Meade in the third Mission: Impossible flick. Initially Julia starts out as a clueless damsel in distress, captured by arms dealer Owen Davian to compel Hunt to steal some Macguffin or other. But by the end of the film she’s up to speed with her fiance’s covert career, saves his life with an electric shock and even pops a cap in the ass of IMF traitor John Musgrave.