An illustration of Justin Timberlake in 'Palmer'

‘Palmer’ Is a Welcome Addition to Justin Timberlake’s Stellar Acting Career

The Apple TV+ drama only proves Timberlake's talent and range as an actor — even as he faces criticism whenever he acts in a film.
August 24, 2021
8 mins read

Justin Timberlake’s name just screams Hollywood. The actor, record producer and singer-songwriter’s career spans almost three decades, and during this time, Timberlake has expanded his acting portfolio in a meaningful way. He flawlessly made his way from being the face of ‘N Sync to starring in some of the most iconic cinema classics to date. Whether it be a thieving mastermind in a sci-fi action flick or a cynical software executive in a raunchy romantic comedy, Timberlake has a knack for transforming into a character seamlessly. Here are a few:

Frankie “Nuts” Ballenbacher in “Alpha Dog”

Earlier on in Timberlake’s acting career, he chiefly played supporting roles. “Alpha Dog” had cast him as Frankie Ballenbacher, the right-hand man of the film’s drug-dealing, gun-wielding antagonist, Johnny Truelove. Frankie’s nature is that of a hard-partying addict with an empathic side. He is originally tasked to kidnap the younger brother of a client indebted to Johnny, but plans change as the situation becomes dire, and he is instructed to do away with the victim. Frankie has a change of heart and offers the victim multiple chances to escape. Timberlake’s performance here exemplifies how those who do bad things have limits to the damage they can cause.

Sean Parker in “The Social Network”

“The Social Network” gave Timberlake the opportunity to play a non-fictional character. In this film inspired by Ben Mezrich’s “The Accidental Billionaires,” Timberlake portrays Sean Parker, an entrepreneur regarded as a critical figure in the founding of Facebook. Sean is what one could call an ambivalent catalyst considering the both good and bad his actions cause for those involved. Timberlake’s portrayal of a real-life person in “The Social Network” has been his only one to date.

Will Salas in “In Time”

Back in 2011, Timberlake starred in the futuristic sci-fi action film known as “In Time.” In a world where the time you have left to live corresponds to your level of wealth, the rich are immortal, and the poor are always at risk. Will Salas is a poor man given a chance to live among the wealthy, but his change of lifestyle does not sit well with those in power. Timberlake becomes Robin Hood with a science fiction twist: He turns himself into a man with nothing to lose with the drive to ensure no one else winds up in his situation.

Richie Furst in “Runner Runner”

Richie Furst is a student at Princeton just trying to get his master’s degree. He possesses two flaws and two flaws alone — the first is he cannot afford his tuition and the second is that he is too smart for his own good. He goes from using an online poker ring to pay his bills to getting involved with the boss of an online gambling empire. Richie is faced with having to outwit others before they do so to him.

Mickey Rubin in “Wonder Wheel”

In this Woody Allen-directed drama, Timberlake plays a lifeguard on Coney Island who aspires to write plays. Mickey is also the film’s narrator, telling the story of his romantic entanglement with an older woman and her stepdaughter. Mickey’s telling of the story reinforces his importance to the film’s plot and reveals how his absence had a role of its own in the end.

Eddie Palmer in “Palmer”

We all love a good redemption story. When delivered with ample craft and sufficient sentiment, tales of absolution like “Palmer” take on qualifiers like “necessary” and “human” and in some cases, “delightful” — all of which are true here.

Timberlake takes on a role much different from his previous ones in “Palmer.” The actor portrays Eddie Palmer, a football quarterback turned ex-convict faced with a challenge familiar to most previously incarcerated criminals — redemption. Preferring to be addressed by his surname, Palmer is released after 12 years in prison for assault and battery and attempted murder. He returns to the house of his grandmother, Vivian, in Sylvain, Louisiana. There, he meets Sam (Sammy) Burdette. Sammy is the young son of his grandmother’s neighbor Shelly, who is an addict.

At first, Palmer is thrown off by Sammy’s effeminate actions but he soon forms an unlikely bond with the boy; after all, Sammy’s preference for fairy princesses over football is not something you see in most boys his age. Eventually, Palmer warms up to Sammy’s nonconformist ways and fights tooth and nail to become the boy’s legal guardian. Palmer once said, “There’s things in this world you can be and there’s things that you can’t,” but he changes his philosophy after some self-reflection. If he, an ex-convict, can become a parental figure to a neglected child then a young boy can become a magical princess. The overall message of the film is that people’s discomfort with your actions shouldn’t stop you from being true to yourself or doing what is right.



The films under Justin Timberlake’s belt have frequently fallen victim to pointless rankings of one sort or the other — if not this, then the occasional and immature critique detailing why Timberlake should quit acting altogether. Such unbridled efforts to find fault with Timberlake’s acting skills have gone as far as labeling him an obstacle to the possible success of his films or, in some cases, identifying him as someone who lacks the gravitas to be a movie star. Nevertheless, his current work speaks for itself as Timberlake’s acting does not fail to deliver new, uncharted performances.

Fatima Sani, Rollins College

Writer Profile

Fatima Sani

Rollins College
Psychology with a Creative Writing minor

Fatima Sani is a New York-born Nigerian storyteller attending college in Florida. She enjoys writing poetry and short stories when she’s not intensely analyzing movies and television series. Her favorite place in the world is anywhere family can be found and she believes the beach is prettiest in the early mornings.

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