Sunday, July 27, 2008

Three Crime Movies

Thanks to a confluence of things (Cubs playing late on the west coast, very few shows I care about on TV, the boys going to bed early), I've actually had some time to clear out the movies that Netflix has so kindly rented to me for the last several weeks. The last three in a row were all crime movies of various vintage, so I decided I'd write some short reviews of them all:

In Bruges was a small movie that came and went pretty quickly last spring starring Brenden Gleeson and Colin Farrell as two British gangsters cooling their heels in Bruges, Belgium while awaiting orders fromt ehir boss (Ralph Fiennes) after Farrell spectacularly messed up a hit-job back home.

Though this movie was sold as a more mad-cap crime romp, it's actually a very melancholy flick about the price of being a gangster can exact on your soul. Farrell plays a guy new to being a gangster, who realizes that it's obviously not what it was cracked up to be. Both Gleeson and Fiennes are very good as hard men who have been in the game long enough to understand that sometimes you just have to play the role of being a hard man, despite the fact that you just don't want to be one anymore.

Overall, it's a good movie, but it's pretty darn depressing. However, you do get a drug-addled, racist dwarf.

Next there was Blast of Silence, a small movie made in the late 50's about a hit man back in NYC to do a job. Truth be told, I was originally led to pick this one up due to the very nice DVD cover illustrated by Sean Phillips (Sleeper, Criminal) and later by an essay in the back-matter of an issue of Criminal. It's an interesting move, not so much because of the story, but of the film-making. The striking thing was the use of location, real New York City locations, which you really don't see a lot of in this era of movie-making, especially for low-budget crime movies. It's just a side of America you didn't see, and it adds to the realism. The other thing about the movie is its narration, which comes off almost sounding as a motivational tape for hit men with low self-esteem. The narrator actually speaks to the "hero", Frankie, guiding him through tough moments, trying to keep up his courage. I'll be honest, it's not a great movie, it's novel for its period and well worth a viewing though.

Finally, there's Charley Varrick, an early 70's heist movie starring Walter Matthau. Charley Varrick is a small-time bank thief, who, with his crew, knocks over a small time bank to find it chock-full of mob money. The rest of the movie is spent watching Charley trying to get the money back to the mob before their man, Mr. Molly (played by an intense Joe Don Baker), tracks him down and does very bad things to him. This is a very good movie, the only problem being that it has influenced so many movies and comics that have come out since, you've practically seen it all before. Matt Fraction's Last of the Independents is a big example of this since the entire plot of the book (along with the title) is taken whole hog. In fact, I'm amazed they were able to sell it as a movie pitch (it was optioned late last week) since you could argue it's more of an adaptation than an original story. Mind you, I'm not claiming any shenanigans on Fraction's (or the artist, Kierion Dwyer) part, since he lays out his influences plainly in the acknowledgements to his book.

Another thing that stuck out for me is that the phrase, "they'll ... go to work on you with a pair of pliers and a blow-torch." originated in this film. This further goes to prove to me that Quentin Tarantino doesn't write screenplays so much as he cuts and pastes them from other movies.

ANYWAY, Chraley Varick is a good little heist movie and it takes you back to the 70's, when you could make your hero a unrepentant thief and murderer and still have him be incredibly sympathetic.

So that's what I got for today, now: on to Shark Week.

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