When the topic of crime cinema comes up in conversation, it is easy to think of many popular classics from the past. Films like The Godfather, Scarface, Goodfellas, Heat, and Chinatown tend to dominate the talk around the water cooler as being the true cream of the crop. What about the unsung heroes of the genre though? What down and dirty films have been unfairly pushed to the side, seemingly forgotten as time has passed in recent years?
Here are ten films that all contain some of the most despicable characters ever put to screen. All ten truly deserve your attention. That is if you have not already seen them.
When a job goes wrong, hitmen Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are sent to a hideaway in Bruges to lay low until things blow over. While there, Ken feels like a kid in a candy store, taking in all the facts and old history with great gusto. Whereas Ray could not be less ecstatic about all of the quaint charms that the titular getaway has to offer.
The best part of the film is definitely the charming banter back and forth between Ray and Ken. Writer/director Martin McDonagh keeps the characters constantly snarky and miserable. The script is smart and snappy. McDonagh makes these contract killers as inherently charismatic as he possibly can. We completely understand their motivations and why they do what they do.
Over the course of his career, Ralph Fiennes has played many great villains (Voldemort in the Harry Potter films, Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List, and Francis Dolarhyde in Red Dragon to name a few). His role here as the villainous Harry is easily some of his most comedic and best work by far.
If you enjoyed In Bruges, McDonagh’s follow-up Seven Psychopaths is a solid second film that does not disappoint. His upcoming third film Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri, starring Frances McDormand, is going to be released later this year. Based off its first red-band trailer, the film looks quite promising. It is also very NSFW (Not Safe For Work).
When a bunch of dirty cops get killed in a gunfight gone south, low-level criminal Joey (the late Paul Walker) is tasked with getting rid of a snub-nose 38. He needs to level the situation out as fast as possible, so he stashes it in his basement. The gun in question is quickly stolen by his son’s best friend Oleg (Camera Bright). The young boy attempts to kill his abusive father who is more in love with John Wayne than he is his own son. How obsessed is Oleg’s father with The Duke? Well, he has a very poorly rendered tattoo of his cinematic hero right on his back. No tattoo shop no matter how good they are could possibly fix it. It is really that bad.
Both Oleg and the gun disappear deep into the night. This sends Joey on a trippy nightmare run through utter Hell to get them both back in one piece. Now you could certainly argue that Joey should have just thrown the gun in the harbor in the first place, instead of stashing it in his basement for Oleg to so easily find. If that were the case, however, then there would be no film. Not only is Running Scared Walker’s best film, but it is easily the best performance of his career.
Writer/director Wayne Kramer injects this perverse world with an incredibly inspired Grimm’s fairytale aesthetic. Those fairytale allusions truly come to a head when Oleg becomes privy to a horrendously uncomfortable subplot involving two pedophiles (Bruce Altman and Elizabeth Mitchell). You will never be able to look at Juliet from Lost the same way ever again. Not to be forgotten, of course, is Walker’s on-screen wife, a pre-Bates Motel Vera Farmiga. She truly gets some of the best scenes in the whole crazy affair. Do not miss this one.
You would think that a movie directed by the late Tony Scott and written by Quentin Tarantino sitting at 92 percent and Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes would get a lot more acclaim than it does. True Romance is a film that seems to have been sort of lost over time. It has all the elements of a great story. Clarence (Christian Slater) is a charming comic book enthusiast and utter Elvis devotee. Alabama (Patricia Arquette) is simply adorable as a call-girl that just wants out of her current lifestyle. She is managed by her pimp played by a completely unrecognizable Gary Oldman. True Romance has all the hallmarks of a Tarantino script, but it never feels tired or predictable. The story takes many different twists and turns throughout its narrative to keep the viewers guessing as to what happens next.
Scott was oftentimes famous for his manic and fast-cutting visual style. Said style would really take over in the later part of his career. If you were not necessarily a fan of those stylistic flourishes, however, then True Romance may feel like the refreshing change of pace you were looking for. Make sure to keep your eyes open for a blink and you will miss it cameo from a pitch-perfect stoner, Brad Pitt.
7The Place Beyond The Pines
Writer/Director Derek Cianfrance first came to prominence with his utterly heartbreaking and hard-hitting relationship drama Blue Valentine, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. He then followed it up with The Place Beyond The Pines. It is a film told in a triptych format (not unlike last year’s Best Picture Winner Moonlight). Luke Glanton (Gosling) is a heavily tattooed motorcycle stunt rider with no real human connection to call his own. He goes from town to town as part of a traveling show. He mostly keeps to himself and never stays rooted in any one place for too long. That is until old flame Romina (Eva Mendes) comes to visit him one night. She reveals to Luke that he is the father of her child. Being given a newfound purpose in life by wanting to provide for his infant son, Luke begins to rob banks on his motorcycle with the help of Robin (the always great Ben Mendelsohn).
Part of what makes this film so solid all around is just how real these characters truly feel. Before he was ever in the film, Gosling always thought that if he were to rob a bank, he would do so on a motorcycle like in the film. Cianfrance smartly keeps the story’s focus on its characters and their strife. We understand every single one of their choices and how the ripples of those choices reverberate throughout the following years. We struggle with Avery (Bradley Cooper) as he tries to make his way up the ladder in the police force, and subsequently into politics. We yearn for Jason (Dane Dehaan) to find out who his real father was, as he himself struggles to find his own identity while navigating the complicated waters of high school.
6Killing Them Softly
Andrew Dominik may have only currently directed four feature films in his career, but those said films are all powerhouses in their own right. Dominik re-teamed with his Assassination of Jesse James star Brad Pitt for the criminally under-appreciated Killing Them Softly.
When Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) tries to rip off his own card game, Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) try to copy his tactic to get a big score. Now of course neither Frankie nor Russell are professional criminals, so those higher up on the totem pole want to wipe them off the board for good. Enter Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), a charismatic enforcer sent to clean up their sloppy mess. The cinematography alone is enough to warrant a watch. The film is populated by all sorts of unlikeable characters, so the rough and grimy visual approach perfectly encapsulates the sins in every character’s heart. Plus you can never go wrong with Richard Jenkins showing up in a supporting role.
5Shoot ‘Em Up
If you take this film seriously at all, then you are completely missing the point. Shoot ‘Em Up is entirely unashamed of what it is, and all the better for it. Clive Owen constantly chomps down on a carrot while quoting Bugs Bunny. Paul Giamatti plays an incredibly creepy business man with disturbing amounts of aplomb. He spends most of his days trying to kill several pregnant women, all the while trying to deal with the domestic problems that he has with his wife over the phone. Monica Bellucci plays a lactating prostitute known as Donna “Dairy Queen” Quintano. Those are the three main characters in the story, which is essentially all you need to know.
Clocking in at a brisk 86 minutes in length, the film moves along at a very quick pace. The film is outrageous from its opening scene to its free-falling climax. Each sequence becomes somehow more insane than the last, and yet the credibility within the story’s context never fades. The film is cartoonish in both its violence and action scenes. If all of that sounds like something you would enjoy, then Shoot ‘Em Up will certainly be the movie for you.
4Punisher: War Zone
Punisher: War Zone should never be confused with the painful Dolph Lundgren film from 1989. Nor should it be lumped in with the poorly conceived Thomas Jane vehicle from 2004. In fact, Adi Shankar even managed to do a better version of that film as the NSFW short Dirty Laundry instead. Punisher: War Zone had the grave misfortune of being released on December 5th, 2008 just in time for the holiday season. It pretty well bombed at the Box Office.
Director Lexi Alexander delivers a film that is not only hyper-violent to the core, but it stays incredibly true to its comic roots. Ray Stevenson showcases a dark and brooding Frank Castle that will stop at nothing to wage a one-man war against the mob. Dominic West gleefully chews the scenery here as Jigsaw. Not to be confused with the sadistic mastermind that is behind it all from the Saw series, mind you.
War Zone wastes absolutely no time being bogged down in a tired and overdone origin story. You are immediately dropped into the seedy underworld from the opening scene. The Punisher spins upside down from a hanging chandelier, as he shoots up an entire room of gangsters. If that is what you want out of your Punisher, then you will certainly dig this flick.
3Hobo With A Shotgun
In typical Western fashion, a lone wanderer rides on his horse into a lawless town to deliver his own brand of justice. In this case, the wanderer is a hobo (Rutger Hauer), his horse is a boxcar, and the town is Hope Town, with ironically very little of that in it. Hope Town is run in fear by The Drake (Brian Downey), a loathsome gangster and his two despicable sons Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman). All the hobo wants to do is make fifty dollars, so he can buy a lawn mower to start his own business. But when the crime in town becomes even too much for him to stomach, the hobo changes tack and buys the titular shotgun instead.
What follows is a very gleeful spiral of appropriately over-the-top violence and gore. Hauer commits to a performance that legitimizes the absurdity of the film’s graphic proceedings. An actor of his caliber only makes the film that much more entertaining, because you simply cannot believe that Roy Batty from Blade Runner is ripping apart all of these bad guys. Not at all a film for the faint of heart.
2Pride and Glory
Pride and Glory was released on October 24, 2008, which was seemingly right in time for Oscar contention and eventual glory. Even being in a prime awards season slot, the New York-based story of cops on both sides of the law was frustratingly buried away. It only made back half of its production budget at the domestic box office. Co-written by director Gavin O’Connor and Joe Carnahan, the script eschews the glitz and the glamor that most tourists expect when they go to The Big Apple. If anything, this film makes you feel dirty and uncomfortable just by being around it. The audience experiences its utter authenticity in showing the uglier side of The City That Never Sleeps. You may not want to wear your “I <3 NY” shirt after watching this. Ray Tierney (Edward Norton) becomes deeply embroiled in a police scandal involving his heavily troubled brother-in-law Jimmy (Colin Farrell). We see this world of blue and dirty uniforms for the most part through Ray’s eyes. In a movie with the likes of acting heavyweights such as Jon Voight, Shea Whigham, Noah Emmerich, and Frank Grillo, the film rests squarely on Norton’s shoulders. We feel Norton’s pain as he tries to wade through the morally gray sea of complicated familial politics and corruption.
1End of Watch
Four years before he went on to direct Suicide Squad, David Ayer gave us a smaller story of two cops, Brian (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike (Michael Pena), trying to battle the Los Angeles crime scene. Ayer wisely puts the audience in the car with Brian and Mike to understand their daily life on the beat. Hands down the best part of the film is the chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Pena. You really believe them as partners and can totally see why they would have each other’s back throughout the film’s entirety.
Ayer paints an incredibly vivid portrait of life on the street. We get an extremely intimate view of what these guys go through just to get home to their respective wives at the end of the day. Ayer’s first two directed films, Harsh Times and Street Kings, were middling at best. It was not until End of Watch, however, that he really began to find his stride.
Philip loves films, video games, and comics more than anything else. He spends most of his days working on his ongoing comic series, so as to try and avoid getting a real job where he can’t just stay in his pyjamas all day long.