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Tom Sizemore: His five greatest performances

From Heat to Saving Private Ryan

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24:  Tom Sizemore visits at SiriusXM Studios on September 24, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images)
Tom Sizemore was one of the best actors of the 1990's. (Getty Images)

When you think of your favourite film from the 1990's, there's a good chance Tom Sizemore was in it. From Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning classic Saving Private Ryan to Michael Mann's existential heist epic Heat. At one point, seeing Sizemore's name on a cast list was shorthand for knowing you were going to be watching something good.

He worked with all of the Kings and Queens of Hollywood — Spielberg, Scorsese, Mann, Stone, Bigelow, Scott, Bay — the great directors trusted him with roles big and small because he was as dependable on screen as he wasn't off it.

Sizemore would always bring an intensity to every role and this remarkable ability to just disappear into a character. Despite his roles often requiring him to play at a heightened level, his performances would never be unnceccessarily showy, just served the material.

LOS ANGELES - JULY 24: The movie
Tom Sizemore in Saving Private Ryan. (Getty Images)

Of course, there's a reason Tom Sizemore is known for his work in the 1990's and not the subsequent two and a bit decades. Throughout most of his adult life, Sizemore battled with drug addiction and he has been open about abusing cocaine, heroin and crystal meth to the point where it essentially destroyed any mainstream acting opportunities.

Read more: Tom Sizemore dies at 61

Sizemore also had more than a few brushes with the law. He was arrested several times for violence against women, serving six months in prison in 2003 for assaulting his then girlfriend Heidi Fleiss.

There were also accusations of child sexual abuse which the actor denied and a lawsuit about which was dismissed by a judge. It was the nadir of a once vaunted career that had suddenly been looking up after a run on the Twin Peaks revival.

Tom Sizemore in Heat. (Warner Bros.)
Tom Sizemore in Heat. (Warner Bros.)

After the sad news of his passing following a brain aneurysm, the actor leaves behind a complicated legacy.

One of tragedy, violence and self-immolating abuse but also a whole stack of performances that will be remembered long after he's gone.

Here are five of Tom Sizemore's best performances:

Devil in a Blue Dress | 1995

In a just world, we'd have gotten a whole series of Easy Rawlins movies starring Denzel Washington as the post-war private eye but after becoming a commercial failure, we have to cherish Devil in a Blue Dress that bit more.

Sizemore is electric as fellow PI and the nefariously vicious DeWitt Albright. It's a performance that's all in the eyes, the way he can hold a stare as if his pupils are magnets. The scene where he threatens Denzel with a knife makes Mr Blonde in Reservoir Dogs look like Barney the Dinosaur

Bringing Out the Dead | 1999

Sizemore's only collaboration with Martin Scorsese, Bringing Out the Dead is an angsty, metaphysical ride through Hell that also stars Nicolas Cage, John Goodman and Ving Rhames. Sizemore plays the haunted Tom Rolls, a slightly crazed paramedic propelled by violence.

It's a quintessential Scorsese and Sizemore character and came at the end of his golden streak of supporting performances. His deathly black eyes still haunt and linger.

Natural Born Killers | 1994

Tom Sizemore played Jack Scagnetti in Natural Born Killers
Tom Sizemore in Natural Born Killers. (Warner Bros)

In Oliver Stone's frenzied ultraviolent satire about mass media, Sizemore is at his sleaziest and most dangerous. He plays psychopathic detective Jack Scagnetti who is obsessed with taking down serial killing couple Mickey and Mallory and it's a performance of gutteral menace layered with depravity and only heightened by Stone's manic editing.

To get into character, Sizemore says he would do cocaine between takes.

Saving Private Ryan | 1998

LOS ANGELES - JULY 24: The movie
Tom Sizemore as Sergeant Horvath in Saving Private Ryan. (CBS via Getty Images)

Sizemore's role in Saving Private Ryan stands out because it features him playing the opposite of his archetype. In Steven Spielberg's Second World War epic, Sizemore is earnest and noble as Sgt Horvath and commands a great chemistry with Tom Hanks.

The greatest compliment you can pay an actor is that the real person can't be seen in the film and Sizemore is so convincing as a WW2 soldier you'd think he'd have served himself. It should have been the role that elevated him to leading man.

Heat | 1995

Tom Sizemore Film: Heat (USA 1995) Characters: Michael Cheritto  Director: Michael Mann 15 December 1995   **WARNING** This Photograph is for editorial use only and is the copyright of WARNER BROS. and/or the Photographer assigned by the Film or Production Company and can only be reproduced by publications in conjunction with the promotion of the above Film. A Mandatory Credit To WARNER BROS. is required. The Photographer should also be credited when known. No commercial use can be granted without written authority from the Film Company.
Tom Sizemore in Heat. (Warner Bros)

"The action is the juice." If ever there was a line that summed up Michael Mann's epic crime masterpiece of Sizemore's own life, it was this. In a film dripping with existential macho intensity, Sizemore — as veteran bank robber Michael Cheritto — feels every bit the authentic criminal he's supposed to be.

The famous stare in the diner, the hulking posture, the desperate death scene: Sizemore proved just why he was the best character actor of the 1990's.

Watch below: Actor Tom Sizemore dead at 61