I think there comes a point with various actors and actresses where they've finally been in enough films and big enough films that their body of work starts to impress you. I previously found this with James McAvoy. Recently I rewatched Inside Man and felt the same way about Clive Owen. So here's my list of why I love Clive Owen, and hope for the best in the rest of his career.
I first watched and love Mr. Owen in a funny little British movie called Greenfingers. He plays a criminal in an experimental prison that is allowed to start a garden. He recruits some other prisoners to help him and their gardening skills are soon recognized and eventually they're allowed to compete in a huge national gardening competition. There are all the usual macho jokes about guys gardening, but of course our lovable heroes overcome the teasing and prove that success is the best revenge. Clive is quiet, but kind, and spends most of the movie trying to overcome something or another. For a long time afterward, whenever Clive appeared in something else, our family referred to him as the guy from the gardening movie.
Then Clive did a bunch of TV stuff, before landing one of the downstairs roles in Robert Altman's masterpiece, Gosford Park. Along with every other major British star (and Ryan Phillipe), Clive Owen plays a small but intricate role in this story of class lines and struggles with identity, all while solving the murder of the lord of the manor. His part was small, but I remember him walking around with guns and all the while thinking he's got a secret that will turn the whole house upside down. He plays secretive very well.
These small but memorable parts continued in The Bourne Identity. Clive plays the assassin trying to kill Bourne. They meet out in the field as they try to shoot each other, and of course Bourne wins and Clive is gunned down, but has that moment of revelation that perhaps being an assassin is not a great thing and that Bourne should try to save himself. Small role, but one that people tend to remember.
There was a series of movies Clive did next that I saw out of order, so I'll discuss them together. He and Angelina Jolie starred in Beyond Borders, the story of "star-crossed lovers" who are relief workers in various hotspots around the world. They meet in a war zone in Africa, and meet up around the world trying to bring medicine and relief to people struggling with war, famine and disease. The acting and love story are really secondary to the documentary sense of the wars and activism the main characters try to support. I mixed this with watching King Arthur, which was so dreadful I can't really even comment. Clive plays slightly dirtier characters in both of these movies, guys willing to buck the rules and save the people he loves. Not great films, but a bigger move for dear Clive.
Next, Clive hit the big time, a BAFTA and Golden Globe win and an Oscar nomination, with Closer. He's sexy, mysterious, a little mean, and hot as hell. He dates Julia Roberts character, but is incredibly drawn to Natalie Portman's broken ingenue. He fights for what he wants, but never really wins the girl because he can't let go of his suspicious nature. I love watching him in this movie and fast forward to the scene with him and Natalie Portman flirting and arguing and seducing and being sad. So great.
Since Closer, Clive has done some really big movies, including Sin City, Children of Men, Derailed, and Elizabeth: The Golden Age. I liked his character and the story in Children of Men, but I didn't really like the movie as a whole - it didn't achieve the book's apocalypse atmosphere very well, just dark and uninteresting. He almost pulled the movie together with his depressed yet optimistic (hard to pull off, but it's Clive Owen's bread and butter) brooding hero. He drops some of the optimism for Elizabeth: The Golden Age as he plays Sir Walter Raleigh, consort for the Queen. Still sexy, but doesn't quite run the movie.
I can't wait to see the next Clive Owen work in Sin City 2, but I hope he's able to play a few different roles. I love what he's done so far, and look forward to more of the same, but just like the secrets his characters have, I suspect Clive Owen, the actor, has lot of different roles left in him as well.