Obituary: Saluting Pete Postlethwaite

Pete Postlethwaite, the instantly recognizable character actor who appeared in dozens of films over the course of his 30-year-plus career, died on Sunday, Jan. 2, 2011, at the age of 64 in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England. According to reports, the cause of death was cancer, which he had been battling for at least two years.

With his distinctly jagged but sympathetic face and piercing eyes, Postlethwaite could pass for a tough guy, a nice man, a gentle sort, or an all-out demon. Hell, in some movies, he even played all four! (We’re thinking Alien 3 or The Serpent’s Kiss, or maybe even The Usual Suspects.)

He was a talented and, according to what we’ve read, a very well-liked man. He’ll certainly be missed on the big screen, which is where moviegoers really got to know him.

Here’re a handful of our favorite films featuring the late Mr. Postlethwaite.

The Town, 2010

Inception (2010)
In one of this final roles in last year’s mind-tripping blockbuster from Christopher Nolan, Postlethwaite portrays, ironically, the recently deceased father of Cillian Murphy. It’s only when Murphy’s dreams are tapped that we get to see Postlethwaite’s gentle, affecting  and, yes, dreamy performance.
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Warner Home Video

The Town (2010)
Postlethwaite’s gentle-seeming florist “Fergie” Colm is actually a nasty underworld bad boy in Ben Affleck’s recent Boston-based crime thriller.
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Warner

William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, 1996

Among Giants (1998)
A high-tension wire worker (Postlethwaite) gets involved in a May/December romance with a spirited young Australian woman (Rachel Griffiths), much to the consternation of his ex-wife and kids in this well-acted, under-rated romantic comedy.
Available on VHS only from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainent

Amistad (1997)
Steven Spielberg once described Postlethwaite as “probably the best actor in the world,” an impression he undoubtedly made after directing the late actor in the role of District Attorney William Holabird in this real-life story about an 1839 revolt by the African captive on the titular slave ship.
Available on DVD from DreamWorks

The Usual Suspects, 1995

William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996)
“Young men’s love then lies not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes,” proclaims Postlethwaite’s Friar Laurence in his small but indispensable role in Baz Luhrmann’s take on Shakespeare’s great tragedy.
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Fox

The Usual Suspects (1995)
He introduces himself as Mr. Kobayashi, the villainous Keyser Söze’s lawyer,  but there are lots of fans out there who think Pete’s character might be ol’ Keyser, himself!
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Fox

In the Name of the Father, 1993

Suite 16 (1994)
A bizarre, little-seen movie from Belgium director Dominique Deruddere finds Postlethwaite portraying a wheelchair-bound rich guy who plays manipulative mind games on a small-time thief seeking refuge in his posh hotel suite.
Available on DVD from Image Entertainment

In the Name of the Father (1993)
Based on a true story, this film rewarded Postelthwaite with an Academy Award nomination for his role as the father of an Irishman (Daniel Day Lewis) wrongly accused of a 1974 IRA bombing of two British pubs.
Available on DVD from Universal Studios Home Entertainment

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.