Friday, May 04, 2007

Movies With Guns

by Marcus Sakey

I love movies. I especially love crime movies. I don't mean gangster films, or at least not specifically those; I mean movies that explore the seamier side of life, that are unabashed about having a plot and yet also handle character with grace and explore a larger issue.

Here's the problem. There aren't enough of 'em. And a lot of great ones slip through the cracks.

Ever see Spy Game? Odds are you didn't. It was badly trailered, promoted as a sort of pretty-boy actionfest. In truth, there's not much of what you'd call action. But it's a masterful film about loyalty, about country, about the things we can convince ourselves to do for a cause we believe is larger than ourselves--and what happens when we're wrong.

Plus it's damned entertaining.

How about The Peacemaker? George Clooney and Nicole Kidman chasing a load of stolen nuclear weapons. Not new in its own right, but handled with sophistication and subtlety, and every character, good and bad, is smart, motivated, and believable. The subject matter, timely when it came out, now plays as damn-near prescient. And it's even fairly accurate about nuclear weapons, something you just never see.

Obviously, no one needs me to recommend The Usual Suspects, or Goodfellas, or Silence of the Lambs. But did you ever see Manhunter, the first movie to introduce Hannibal Lector, chillingly played by Brian Cox? Okay, the soundtrack is a little eighties, but the film is otherwise fantastic, in many ways the equal to its Academy Award winning sequel.

Miller's Crossing may be the smartest (and oddest) gangster movie ever made. Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels is a perfect film, without a wasted scene or throwaway moment. Bound is so painfully tense it's hard to sit through. I watched Layer Cake three times in two days, and I could fire it up again right now.

So those are some of my favorites. What are some of yours, and why? Help a brother out--otherwise I'll just end watching Training Day for the fifteenth time.


Brett Battles said...

Love Layer Cake. I'd also recommend the Korean film Old Boy. And there's Dirty Pretty Things...that's a movie a lot of people didn't see, but is WELL worth the time.

Maryann Mercer said...

Loved Usual Suspects. The twist at the end still gets me. I liked Memento as well. The character's short term memory loss causes him to resort to unique methods to hunt down his wife's killer. The two stories in one (one moving forward, the other backward) concept intrigued me.
I love the Bogart movies too. Who can go wrong with Key Largo. Crime, character, Lauren Bacall and a hurricane!

JT Ellison said...

And here I thought I was the only person in the world who appreciated THE PEACEMAKER. It's a great flick.

These aren't necessarily gunfests, but underrated thought provokers...

I have CACHE now, it came highly recommended.

STAY, with Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts. It's more psychological, but may appeal. That's one you need to watch a couple of times.

MURDER BY NUMBERS was cool too, more than what I expected.

(And in a random note -- my word verification is GSW -- gun shot wounds, anyone?)

Marcus Sakey said...

Oh, Dirty Pretty Things! Loved, loved, loved that movie.

Good call on Memento. Such a fine film. Just when the gimmick is starting to get old, they turn it around. The ending is so brilliantly cold.

Never heard of Stay--I'll add it to the Netflix queue. Ewan McGregor is awesome, even if he was in those three abortions they dared apply the Star Wars name to.

Matt said...

I tend to go farther back for great crime films, though modern cinema has produced its share of classics.

The Asphalt Jungle is a great one, as is Double Indemnity, Key Largo and Raffifi (a French film which features a tense heist sequence without a lick of sound). LA Confidential is a modern masterpiece; it gets criticized for not being the most faithful adaptation of a book, but that would have been an impossible feat in a two-hour movie.

One of my favorite crime films isn't really a crime film in a traditional sense. It's a terse, nasty little film called called "The Set-Up," and is directed by Robert Wise. It stars Robert Ryan as a punch-drunk boxer working seedy, small-town circuits, who doesn't realize until it's too late that his manager and cut-man have made a deal with a gangster to fix the fight.

Matt said...

Incidentally, I would argue that Manhunter is by far the best of the Lector franchise, with Brian Cox making the most of his limited screen time. (Yes, even better than Silence.)

Also, Mann's decision to play Iron Butterfly during the climatic confrontation was gutsy as hell, but it worked.

Steve Z. said...

From the Forties: Double Indemnity and Out of the Past. The two greatest film noirs ever made. Brute Force with Burt Lancaster, which is perhaps the best prison film ever made. I also agree with Matt regarding The Set-up. Great boxing movie.

From the Fifties: a French film called Bob le Flambeur, aka Bob the Gambler. A memorable crime film in black-and-white Paris.

From the Sixties: John Boorman's Point Blank. If you double-cross Lee Marvin, you'd better make sure you kill him.

From the Seventies: Michael Cimino's Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges at the their best. And Michael Ritchie's Prime Cut, an absolute gem of a crime film. Why haven't more people seen this movie?

From the Eighties: Midnight Run. Maybe the best buddy picture ever made, with DeNiro and Grodin funny and touching.

From the Nineties: Fargo. Best crime-comedy of the past twenty years.

Steve Z. said...

Oops -- speaking of the Fifties, I left out Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (adapted from the Patricia Highsmith novel). Has anyone ever played a charming psychopath better than Robert Walker? The suspense in this movie becomes almost unbearable.

Three more from the Seventies: Charley Varrick, The Conversation, and Mean Streets.

Sorry, I've been a film geek for 25+ years.

spyscribbler said...

Of course, I loved Spy Game! But put Robert Redford in a film, and I may be a little biased. My memory is very fuzzy, but I liked Seven, and there was another one Brad Pitt (I think?) played in ... he'd just come over from Ireland to New York? He was mixed up in the IRA?

I have the worst memory in the world when it comes to names and titles. I forget my own character's names all the time!

You've probably seen The Departed?

spyscribbler said...

Oh! And Sleepers! Did you see Sleepers? I really loved that movie. (I seem to see a trend concerning Brad Pitt. Funny, because I'm not crazy about him as an actor!)

Reel Fanatic said...

Layer Cake is indeed just brilliant ... I know it's TV, but I've been going through HBO's The Wire again on DVD, and except for maybe Prime Suspect, there isn't a show that better gets into the criminal mind

The Home Office said...

Confidence and The Suicide Kings aren't timeless classics, but they both fall neatly into your description of underappreciated films. Since you're at least partly in the tank for Denzel Washington (as shown by the Training Day comment) you're probably already seen Inside Man, which is well worth anyone's time.

WellesFan said...

And I thought I was the only one who enjoyed Spy Game. This is the second time today someone mentioned Miller's Crossing. I'll have to track that down.

Anyone here see Laura with Gene Tierney? Fantastic noir from 1944.

Touch of Evil by Orson Welles.

Minority Report = sci-fi + noir.

Chris said...

I second SUICIDE KINGS as being a hell of a lot of fun. Also INSIDE MAN and THE SPANISH PRISONER. Oh, and SPARTAN. And if you're delving into television, KIDNAPPED was fantastic, if quickly canceled.

Brian said...


-Oldboy, Oldboy,Oldboy,Oldboy, Oldboy, Oldboy. Cant say it enough -- Oldboy!!!! - Quite possibly the most haunting action movie ever made.

-Full Contact - Chow Yun Fat. Quite possibly the single greatest action movie ever made. Pioneered the use of the bullet-cam.

-Hard Boiled - Chow Yun Fat. Pure action.


-Lethal Weapon - A dark tale of drug running and soliders who can't cope with being home after the Vietnam war. What, I thought the Lethal Weapon movies were soft, cuddley & safe. Not that first one baby. The original is a dark brooding movie that is NOTHING like its sequals and almost shouldnt be considered a part of the later movies

-Running Scared - Billy Crystal & Gregory Hines. The original modern buddy action movie. Came out a full year before Lethal Weapon.

-Downtown - Forest Whitaker & Anthony Edwards. It's a little hokety at times but is very entertaining

-Delta Heat - Anthony Edwards & Lance Henriksen. See above description.

Asian Action Movies

-The Killer
-A Better Tomorrow 1&2
-Countless others. The book "Sex & Zen and a Bullet in the Head is indispensible.

D.A. Davenport said...

M is a big favorite. So is Boondock Saints. Gilda, Dial M for Murder, Bladerunner, Witness, Little Caesar. Also really liked Copycat.

Marcus Sakey said...

Y'all rock.

Just Netflixed a bunch of these, Oldboy topping the list. Can't wait to dig in.

Spy -- The Devil's Own is the one you're thinking of. It had some great stuff, though not as much as it should have considering the cast. Though I heard Pitt and Ford hated each other.

Some good ones I'd forgotten--Boondock Saints, Suicide Kings, Midnight Run.

When it comes to Asian cinema, I'm a big John Woo fan. Hard Boiled is probably the best as far as the action goes, but I like The Killer better. I actually met Woo once, interviewed him for a magazine. He was the most mild-mannered, self-effacing guy on the planet. And he actually sent me Christmas cards for like three years after. Which was about the coolest thing in the world.

Michael Dymmoch said...

How could everyone forget Chinatown? And check out Lone Star. And no one mentioined Die Hard, a much better film than Lethal Weapon which was only half a good film. (It had too many villians, all of whom didn't add up to the bad guy Alan Rickman played in Die Hard. And the plot tanked at the point the baddies kidnapped Murtaugh's daughter and didn't use her.) I think Seven is pornographic--all that twisted violence in service of a main character (Pitt's) who just wasn't believable as a big city cop.

Outland, even though it's Science fiction, was a terriffic riff on High Noon theme.