10 Great Crime Movies (That You Probably Haven't Seen)
Crime films have a certain mystique in the history of cinema. We love to delve into the world of people who live outside the law. Sometimes these people have their own code of honor that they live by. Other times they are opportunists, who live by a kind of rational egoism. The crime film is often about the dark side in all of us. We see the mirrored personas of cop and criminal blur, gritty tales of revenge and stories of men and women who stray from the straight and narrow for the promises of easy money. Sub-generes, such as the detective film and the gangster film, focusing our sympathies on opposite sides of the law, give a sense of how ambivalent the moral world of these films can be. These ten films are some of the best that have gone largely unseen over the years and deserve to be appreciated by as wide an audience as possible.
POINT BLANK (1967)
Under appreciated upon it's original release, John Boorman adapted Richard Stark's novel The Hunter into a strange minimalist psychedelic neo-noir. Lee Marvin is Walker, a thief who was double crossed and left for dead. Now he wants only one thing, his money back and he is willing to go through as many people as he needs to in order to get it. Lee Marvin is brilliantly understated, playing his characters single minded pursuit as if it is the essence of his very being. Boorman combines the fatalistic dread of classic noir with an arty cutting and framing inspired by the work of the French New Wave.
GET CARTER (1971)
Critically reviled upon its original release, Get Carter is one of the most bleak crime films ever made. Michael Caine plays a hardened gangster who comes home to avenge the death of his brother. Not a "feel good" movie by any stretch of the imagination, people who like their crime films as hard and gritty as they come will love this hard hitting thriller. One of Caine's best performances, he seems absolutely feral in the role. Caine delivers bloody justice but there are no heroes or villains, just vengeance and money in this world of British crime.
BLOOD SIMPLE (1985)
Oscar Winners Joel and Ethan Coen have made a lot of crime films, roughly half of their movies have been in this genre. Still a lot of people haven't seen their first film about a man's attempt to kill his wife and her lover that goes both hilariously and violently wrong. The Coens themselves never cared for the film. Said Joel about the special edition that they re-edited, "a pace that was once glacial is now merely slow and scenes that were inept are now merely awkward." While not as polished as later efforts, Blood Simple is still obviously the product of the director's who made Fargo, The Big Lebowski and No Country For Old Men.
HOUSE OF GAMES (1987)
The first directorial effort of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Mamet, House of Games is about a psychiatrist who is roped into the world of confidence men when she tries to help out a patient with a debt. The film manages to be a fascinating look at how con artists manage to ply their trade and not tip off their marks that they are getting played and a surprising thriller, with a major plot twist roughly every twenty minutes of screen time. Mamet's then wife Lindsey Crouse and Joe Mantegna spar beautifully with Mamet's razor sharp dialogue and a great supporting cast gives high quality performances.
SHALLOW GRAVE (1994)
When three flatmates take on another roomie they find him dead of a drug overdoes and a suitcase full of cash in his bedroom. They decide to keep it and dispose of the body. Anybody who has ever seen a crime thriller will tell you, that is a bad idea. The first film by Oscar winner Danny Boyle, Shallow Grave is one part Hitchcockian thriller and another part droll black comedy. The three flatmates scheme and plan to try to get the money while at the same time they are being pursued by gangsters who want the money back. It is hard to guess where this film will turn next and the ending is deliciously ironic, satisfying the misanthropic streak in all of us.
THE LAST SEDUCTION (1994)
Linda Fiorentino might have won an Oscar for this portrayal of a femme fatale if it wasn't for the fact that this movie debuted on HBO rather than in theaters. She plays a woman on the run from her drug dealer husband, who dupes a small town rube into her web of crimes and deceit. Director John Dahl is known for directing a series of low key film noirs, (Red Rock West, Rounders) but this still might be the best film of his career, thanks in part to Fiorentino's firecracker of a performance. Not only is this a film that should gain a larger audience but Fiorentino is a star that should have been.
LIVE FLESH (1996)
Pedro Almodovar occasionally mixes his bizarre soap opera plots with a little bit of crime fiction. This film, about a young man who serves time for a crime that he didn't commit and wants to balance the scales, is outrageously melodramatic. It is also incredibly suspenseful and like much of Almodavar's work, darkly funny. Javier Bardem spends most of the movie in a wheelchair but gives a supremely dominating performance as a crippled cop, shot in the back by his crooked partner. The plot involves a series of infidelities and revenge, as these films often do, but few are as stylish and as powerfully written and directed as this Spanish thriller.
THE LIMEY (1999)
Following his previous excellent crime film Out of sight, director Stephen Soderbergh did this smaller and artier revenge thriller. Terence Stamp plays a recent parolee out to avenge the death of his daughter while he was in prison. The film is told in flashbacks and has a disjointed structure that slowly reveals the unraveling of the plot and back-stories of the characters. Soderbergh even uses footage of Stamp from another film he did in the 60s to show his character as a younger man. The ending packs a real punch. Henry Fonda is wonderfully slimy as the film's chief villain.
LAYER CAKE (2004)
Daniel Craig plays a drug dealer who wants to retire with his fortune, having successfully avoided the uglier and messier side of a life of crime. Unfortunately he gets involved with a feud between two gangsters inadvertently and finds himself caught in the middle of his worst nightmare. Directed by Matthew Vaughan (Stardust, X-men: First Class), Layer Cake was his first effort after working as a producer with Guy Ritchie. Vaughan is a better director than Ritchie, avoiding gimmicks in favor of gritty action and tongue in cheek humor. Craig shows the same charisma as a protagonist that made him such an effective James Bond.
Brick gained a cult following upon its original release but still is probably little seen outside of fans of independent film. It rests on a high concept gimmick, hard boiled detective film set in high school. While the trailer emphasizes some of the jokier elements, the film plays it deadly straight, with dialogue sounding right out of a Dashiell Hammett novel. Joseph Gordon Levitt plays a teenaged detective looking for answers after his ex-girlfriend turns up dead. First time director Rian Johnson shows a strong sense of style and his script a close study of dialogue. If you closed your eyes you'd swear you were listening to a black and white Bogart classic.