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Ballers Is Still Dwayne Johnson’s Best Role

Ballers comes at the tail end of a more varied period in Johnson’s acting career, premiering as his leading man status is unmistakably cemented by blockbuster hits like 2015’s San Andreas and 2016’s Central Intelligence. Johnson had successfully transitioned to the big screen over a decade prior, but with more modest successes and appearing in larger ensembles, including the Fast & Furious and G.I. Joe franchises.

During this period leading up to Ballers’ premiere, Johnson would take more creative risks showcasing his range, from a memorable comedic turn in 2010’s The Other Guys to the 2013 Michael Bay film Pain & Gain. The latter movie, in particular, stars Johnson, alongside Mark Wahlberg and Anthony Mackie, as bodybuilders who are buffoonishly stupid as they are criminally conniving. Johnson’s character, Paul Doyle, is an impulsively violent man with spending problems and a nasty drug habit, character traits unheard of from Johnson’s acting choices in the past several years.

This isn’t to say that Johnson’s recent roles are without character flaws, range, and are nominally unstoppable. The Jumanji films gently poke fun at Johnson’s musclebound image for well-earned laughs while Luke Hobbs, Johnson’s fan-favorite Fast & Furious character has been soundly knocked around by a number of formidable foes. However, it wouldn’t be inaccurate or unfair to say that Johnson has been regularly playing it safe with the projects that he chooses. Ballers and Pain & Gain show an actor capable of enormous depth, using his physical appearance to his advantage as a thespian. By comparison, projects like 2018’s Rampage feel like a relatively made-to-order action fare.

Ballers feels like the heir apparent to HBO’s Entourage on the surface, following a predominantly male cast as they pursue their career ambitions in a very public entertainment field. But for all the ardent machismo and wish-fulfillment that comes with the lifestyles that its main characters indulge in, Ballers offers a more complicated role for Johnson that comes with the widest range in a single character that Johnson has played in his entire career. Hopefully, with more eyes on the show thanks to its arrival on Netflix, audiences will take notice and fuel interest for similarly nuanced roles in Johnson’s future.

All five seasons of Ballers are now available to stream on Netflix.

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