After having just got home from seeing The Dark Knight, and being blown away much like everyone else not only from Heath Ledger’s stunning portrayal of The Joker but also the deep layers of cinematic storytelling. The construction of the characters and their arches, the dynamic and moving plot and simply the good old fashioned feeling of watching a great crime story unravel. If you read my segments in the magazine here much, or you visit my site – you should know pretty quick that if there’s one genre I am consistently drawn to; it is the crime genre. It doesn’t matter what mob it is, what gang or really who it’s about – if people are breaking the law and it’s a character study – you have my interests piqued. Call me easily entertained, I don’t know, but these are stories I have been drawn to since childhood. I kid you not, as a little kid I didn’t just play cops and robbers – I played Lucky Luciano versus Al Capone. I had to be the only fourth grader watching The History Channel. So, back to The Dark Knight, after seeing this simply fantastic new crime film I figured I would keep up this idea and focus on some older crime greats. Some you might have missed, and some you might have thought you were the only one to notice. Most everyone knows to check out The Godfather series and Goodfellas, but I’m going to cover a slightly more diverse series of films. Do yourself a favor and check them all out as soon as possible!
Things To Do in Denver When You’re Dead
Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead… pretty neat little title eh? I certainly think so. Denver was made in the aftermath of Pulp Fiction, where all the studios and groups went nuts for anything crime related and hip. A lot of my Quinton Tarantino fanboy friends tend to absolutely loathe any crime flick made in this period – but I think it was a great time for the genre. So many young filmmakers out there trying something different, so many movies getting the greenlight that never would have without Pulp being such a big hit – I don’t see the downside really. Well, if you asked somebody else I’m sure they’d tell you that many of these filmmakers who were attempting Tarantino-esque dialogue more often than not simply failed hard and thus brought their own movies to a screeching halt. I don’t see it that way with Denver, which follows a group of guys contacted by mafia kingpin Christopher Walken for one big job. All they have to do is simply scare a little punk, and call it a night. Unfortunately they hire a hothead on the team who blows up causing the mission to go wrong all the way around. Now the mob boss wants them dead, and it’s not whether they are going to die – only HOW. Studying the men and their attempts to survive, the film becomes an existential study along with all of the cool and hip characters that pop up. Characters such as Mr. Shush, a quiet killer (played by Steve Buscemi) who ALWAYS gets his man no matter what the obstacle. The film offers a great combination of the "cool" and the dramatic. It’s still one of my favorite underrated films of the nineties. Just remember: Boat Drinks!
Jumping straight from the land of Colorado and America, we head directly to Hong Kong. Depending on the audience, The Mission might not be considered an "underrated" gem. In most Asian cinema circles it is a highly respected and often celebrated achievement in HK cinema. However, I think many of the readers here may have never even heard of it. Not your fault, if Asian cinema isn’t usually your thing you would never know about The Mission – however, I am here to spread the love so you get your butt out to a video store and pick this one up! What? You need more information? Sigh, well, the basic course of the plot is that when a mob boss is no longer safe and has rival factions trying to kill him at every opportunity he must enlist a group of trusted men to protect him. He finds those men, and we follow them on their Mission for the course of the film – eventually leading to a potential war with themselves. Anthony Wong plays the most dangerous of the group, and if you’ve ever seen him in any of his more bizarre roles – you know just how intimidating he can be. The film itself is a spectacular study on these men and the destruction of their little group – and being much more than simply a crime flick it is truly a work of dramatic art.
Often referred to as Takeshi Kitano does Dirty Harry, Violent Cop is certainly his most underrated film. Although recently spotlighted on G4’s Attack of the Show, of all his films I think VC actually gets less respect and for no real reason. I would certainly hold it right up there with Sonatine (probably his best work, and another freakin’ amazing crime flick) and Hana-Bi, but for whatever reason most don’t seem to feel the same. Maybe because Violent Cop was my first introduction to Kitano’s world, and it has stayed with me ever since. In that way, I highly reccomend it for others looking to first get into his work. The basic premise is that Kitano plays a cop, who simply doesn’t care much for the rules. He has his own way of doing things, and beating down a suspect while interrogating them is just part of the job. However when his own family is brought into things, Kitano loses it and sets out to take down the mob. That’s a simplified version of the film but regardless, Kitano delivers a burtal and unapologetic look at crime from the other side of the table and carries his usual pessimistic look at life in general and how disturbing it really can be. I can’t recommend it enough, and for Kitano first-timers this might just be the place to start. Can’t say it did me wrong.
I’ll call that a day, and end by saying that whatever it is about the crime genre that draws us to it – I can’t really put my finger on it. Maybe it’s man’s obsession with the dark and morbid facets of life, maybe it’s a way of living out that lifestyle that us decent folk try to desperately avoid – maybe it’s all of the above. All I can say for sure is that no genre seems to carry as much weight to it and opportunity for new attempts at developing a story. This is how Martin Scorcesse can still have so much to say in the genre so many years after entering it. If you are at all interested in the genre and have not seen one of these three films – I absolutely recommend you rush out and give them a watch.