American Made - Doug Liman - Tom Cruise is Barry Seal in the Iran-Contra adventure! Plays like the Cliff's Notes version of the end of the Viet Nam era up to Gary Webb and Oliver North and Manuel Noriega and Pablo Escobar and Joaquín Guzmán and oh fuck we're still living this, aren't we? It strikes me that when Americans tell their own recent history in popular film it almost always has to play as a comedic romp or zany satire because the reality runs so contrary to the cultural myth of America many Americans simply won't believe it - not the general notions, not the broad strokes and certainly not the incendiary details. The only way to get the idea sublimated into the popular consciousness is by disarming and distracting the filters with humor (often - selling certain figures as embodying the ultimate American ideals of self-reliance, innovation and perseverance in the face of choices that would trouble a lesser-American's conscience). I doubt these stories play as comedy anywhere else in the world. Still, it's a fun movie and if it takes that kind of tone to get the conversational ball rolling this film is a pretty good starter kit. Personally, I'd love to see Cruise and Liman collaborate on more of this kind of thing.
The Bling Ring - Sofia Coppola - In 2008-09 a group of celebrity-obsessed teens in L.A. made a habit of breaking in to the homes of famous people just to kinda hang out, which turned to pilfering, which turned to grabbing as much as they could carry in order to support their burgeoning fashionista lifestyles. Then, y'know, they got caught and became a news sensation and made silly assholes of themselves and many adult-types in the media-circus that were their collective trials. Crimestyles of the young, over-privileged and over-indulged pictures don't come warmer-toned or better-natured, and that's not a bad thing. Usually I'm down for nasty, vacuous people getting the fluorescent lighting treatment, but damn if The Bling Ring don't treat its subjects with a degree of sweetness and generosity not strictly deserved, but oddly welcome. Not that these starfuckers get coddled exactly, but they're treated straight up. Judgement is reserved and in the vacuum of morality human moments sneak up and catch you unaware. They dissipate quickly and their number hardly equals an effervescence, but they were enough to make a difference for me. I think my favorite of these moments was watching Marc (Israel Broussard) the seemingly most guileless member of the titular group filming himself from his computer's camera as he listens to music, dances, tries on a few outfits and eats junkfood. And I enjoyed the comeuppance plenty. I enjoyed seeing it all go to shit, the way it usually does and I like. Best moment: hanging out in Paris Hilton's shrine to herself (filmed in Hilton's actual home).
Blood Ties - Guillaume Canut - A remake of the 2008 French film Le liens du sang (Rivals) based on the novel by Michel & Bruno Papet and directed by the original film's star, this is a family drama with James Caan as the dying (single father) patriarch with two sons - Clive Owen as the older, street criminal brother just out of prison and Billy Crudup as the younger, who is a cop. The brothers alternately look out for each other and ruin the other's lives with their actions, tying the family's fate together while ripping at the more organic fabric that they can't escape. Owen's Chris reconnects with his ex (Marion Cotillard), a prostitute whom he has two children with, setting her up as the madam of the brothel he's opening (funded through armed robbery), while concentrating his woos on a girl (Mila Kunis) guaranteed to put them in the running for awkward romantic screen-pairing of the year... maybe the decade. Meanwhile Crudup's Frank busts a blue-collar career criminal family man (Matthias Schoenaerts) back to prison and zeroes in on the attentions of the con's wife (Zoe Saldana) with his heat-seeking boner while taking shit from his cop buddies for letting his un-repentent criminal brother live with him, and feeling very much and very accurately like second favorite to dad. If this sounds like a great, tangled, messy family-drama (let alone crime story) plot - it is. If it sounds like an awful lot to make room for in a two-hour movie - it didn't have to be, but it was. Not sure what elements I would have sacrificed to focus on others, but somehow this felt like too much of a good thing. The cast is impressive (I haven't even mentioned the solid supporting work from Noah Emmerich, Domenick Lombardozzi, John Ventimiglia or the woefully under-utilized Lili Taylor), the look of the film and its soundtrack are small-scale Scorsese-esque and immense pleasures, and the crime elements are satisfying, but the material is so dense that what should have been a far-more emotionally-invested viewing experience turned out to be one that I was conscious of rooting for and holding out for it all to come together... which I think it did - I liked this movie - but it required me to hang on and hang in more than a masterful take on the material would have.
Blue Caprice - Alexandre Moors - Hypnotic if not quite harrowing portrait if not strictly a dramatization of the mindset if not expressly the events that led up to the Beltway Sniper shootings carried out by John Allen Muhammed and Lee Boyd Malvo in October of 2002 around Washington D.C. As John, Isaiah Washington delivers a helluva performance, all bitter paranoia and badly wired or at least overcooked paternal impulse that mix into an evil plan to bring down the... something... system(?) he feels victimized by. The film is dreamlike and impressionistic in its approach focusing on mood rather than plot-points and that works ultimately in its favor, becoming a dull-edged and suffocating nightmare rather than a by the numbers ticking clock thriller. Good supporting turns from Tim Blake Nelson and Tequan Richmond as Lee buttress Washington's towering simmer (that a contradiction?) while splashes of casting color from Joey Lauren Adams and Leo Fitzpatrick just made me wish for more of them than I got. Best moment: Lee takes care of a baby - it's a great moment balancing terror for what might happen to the child left long-term in his care and profound sadness at what might've happened to the young man with a better father-figure.
Booster - Adam Ruskin - Nico Stone plays Simon, a workaday thief and hustler who sticks to shoplifting and small-time non-violent scores to get by and stay off of everybody's radar. When his older brother, a thief with a different M.O. altogether (cowboy armed robberies of liquor stores and the like) is arrested and facing serious time, Simon is asked to pull more scores like the one his brother is suspected of in order to cast doubt on his brother's guilt. It's a hard choice that means more than just the risk of being caught or someone getting hurt and it weighs on Simon appropriately. This is a very unassuming crime drama that feels like it's punching above its weight, but that's exactly what I responded to in it. I'd like to see more low-budget treatments of crime on film like this. Not saying it's a masterpiece, but I'd rather see more material executed at this level of skill and sincerity than a hundred slick hitman/serial killer movies. Also anytime Seymour Cassel agrees to be in your movie it's a good sign.
Contraband - Baltasar Kormákur - In this remake of Oskar Jónasson's Reykjavík Rotterdam (directed by the original film's star) Mark Wahlberg's Chris Farraday is an honest man finally. A little stretch in the cooler'll do that for a guy with family aspirations. He used to be a damn good smuggler, but got his ass caught and now that he's out is just concentrating on paying the bills like any old square in order to keep his wife and kids fed and with him. But when his deadbeat brother in law (Caleb Landry Jones) gets in over his head with some dangerous gangsters, Chris must once again join the crew of a ship and smuggle da-da-da contraband! The captain of the ship doesn't want him on board, the crew are excited as hell, his wife doesn't know what's going on and his best friend is trying to steal his family from him while he's away. He's fucked. Or is he? Don't forget kids, just because he's been retired doesn't mean he's not a wiley pro. Of course, shit doesn't go smooth at all and he's going to need a helluva lotta things to go right to balance out everything that goes wrong. It's got sky-high willing suspension of disbelief issues and some logic shit near the end that bugs me. Buuuut, it's got... something. It's the type of macho bullshit I'm not above letting myself enjoy. I love the hell out of the shipping setting and the cast has got appeal. Still, you gotta hand it to Hollywood when making just-go-with-it kinetic, escapist fare it felt like the best elements of 24 on the big screen (even though it blew its chance at being particularly memorable in the third act... big time). Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Foster, J.K. Simmons, Diego Luna, Lukas Haas and Kate Beckinsale are involved too.
The Fury of a Patient Man - Raúl Arévalo - Slow burning romantic revenge melodrama with helluva finale. It's nice when a film can upset my natural sympathies without making me feel too cheaply manipulated. This one is a measured, steady march toward awfulness and through some lovely places you wish everybody could just stay in, but no, on we go... toward the awful without breaking stride. Strong central performances from Antonio de la Torre, Ruth Díaz and Luis Callejo.
Glass Chin - Noah Buschel - A boxer who almost was somebody takes on training a kid who might become somebody. Still, there're bills to pay - debts to settle, so he rents himself out doing collection work for a gangster who will want more than he has to give by the film's end. This is a really gorgeous little picture with a strong cast and just the right amount of ambition. Corey Stoll gets to toe the line between hero and hump and Billy Crudup is a very effectively threatening heavy, but the standout performance of the whole thing has got to be Yul Vazquez's Roberto Flash, an enforcer whose muted flamboyance would be played for laughs 99 times out of 100, but is instead the most human beating heart in the whole thing. Seriously, I want a Roberto Flash movie. Plus there's a swell scene by David Johansen. and the rest of the cast includes Katherine Waterston, John Ventimiglia, Michael Chernus, Brendan Sexton III and Marin Ireland.
Never Goin' Back - Augustine Frizzell - Maia Mitchell and Camila Morrone are two minimum-wage kids with nothing in this world but each other and a dream of going to the beach at Galveston for a birthday celebration, but this isn't the clueless bubble-reality the characters from Spring Breakers live in, this is ass-crack Texas economic reality, and though they're not above turning to petty crime to make ends meet and realize their dream, it's not their first instinct. Their first instinct is to work more awful shifts at their fucking awful jobs and save money walking instead of riding the bus. It's a class comedy and as potent a (fantasy) spiritual middle finger to everything and everybody arrayed against the young and under-employed dreamers as I could've hoped for. Next-gen Clerks with a lot of heart.
No Tears For the Dead - Lee Jeong-beom - East meets west in this Korean action pic that fuses sensibilities with mixed results. Yeah, the introduction of guns to the mix (and the plot - it's about American black market weapons finding their way across the world) pays off in some great shootouts, but also limits some of what has been so distinctly other about K-crime flicks this century - the lack of guns on the street meaning the gangsters have to hack each other to pieces with knives and hatchets. Also the introduction of English-speaking actors underlines what a B-production/premise it is (something often effectively masked by having to read subtitles), but holy crap there are still at least three very satisfying action sequences to love here and I hope Jeong-boom's next effort, Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage, reveal him to be a talent to watch.
Pusher - Luis Prieto - An English language remake of the first of Nicolas Winding Refn's Danish Pusher trilogy, and a lot of fun (for the audience, not for the characters). The original is a good flick, but nowhere near as good as its sequels, so maybe that's why I really didn't mind such a close to the original remake. The location is changed and the new pulsing-techno soundtrack casts a half-dreamy, half-nightmarish trance over the proceedings as we watch a small-time drug dealer named Frank (Richard Coyle looking remarkably like and projecting a similar vitality and aura as Vincent Cassel) lose control of his life in the space a single hellish week. Bronson Webb brings a more humorous take on the pathetic-ness that is Tony than Mads Mikkelsen's original portrayal (but holy shit, nothing is more powerful than Mikkelsen's performance in Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands - you really must see that film - break your heart in all the right ways), but yeah, it's pretty much the exact same movie. I only hope the remake brings a new audience to the original's sequels. Hey you, go see them! Best moment: Zlatko Buric reprises the role of Milo and is clearly having a blast. So much heart, with so much menace beneath. When he talks to Frank... it's really scary.
Racer & the Jailbird - Michaël R. Roskam - Matthias Schoenaerts plays a bank robber whose cover involving car parts and inport/export of vehicles puts him in proximity of Adèle Exarchopoulos a competitive driver whom he falls instantly in love with. As their romance grows more intense his bullshit facade stands between them - he wants to quit the crime game and she just wants him to tell her the truth. After his one-last-job goes bad and he winds up in prison she doesn't leave him and instead makes plans and sets things in motion on the outside for their and/or his future. The way things work out (or don't) isn't predictable and that's the best thing about this odd duck of a romantic crime drama - I never knew where it was going. Afterward I'm not sure I'm satisfied, but I'm still thinking about it weeks later, which is a recommendation in its own right. No doubt the stars are attractive and the racing and heisting bits look great, but I also don't think they fully utilized their leads. For the sake of not spoiling the where-the-hell-is-this-going experience for some of you I won't go into exactly why I felt this way, but I do think there were a couple of big missed opportunities. Roskam directed The Drop, which I loved, as well as Bullhead which I was similarly frustrated by, but I know that other folks loved. He's interesting.
Raman Raghav 2.0 - Anurag Kashyap - The connection between a compromised policeman and the killer he is chasing is slowly revealed in the neon-grunge of Mumbai. The enigmatic performance by Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Raman, a modern day killer who takes inspiration from a real serial murderer from the 1960s whose first name he shares, is the most compelling reason to watch this one, but atmosphere generated and sustained by Kashyap's camera and excellent locales sure help.
Shimmer Lake - Oren Uziel - The sheriff of a small town leads a manhunt for three bank robbers one of whom is his brother. Another Netflix original I went into blind and really enjoyed for three reasons. First, the tone. While it is dosed with plenty of humor, it isn't a comedy - the violent and tragic elements are given straightforward treatment and work just as well as the comedic bits. Second, the structure. The story is told in reverse over the course of three days and the decision to tell it that way pays off in numerous small ways without feeling like the ultimate revelation is gimmicky or a big let down - again, the tone is key here - it's a fairly unassuming picture unlike work by oh... Christopher Nolan or M. Night Shyamalan where you're looking hard for the key for the whole run time and the ultimate success of the film rests on the delivery of that final detail. Third, the cast. Solid ensemble, but holy shit I need Rob Corddry and Ron Livingston to make many, many more appearances as their B-team FBI agents.
Triple Frontier - J.C. Chandor - Ben Affleck and Oscar Isaac lead a stud-studded cast of super soldiers turned thieving bastards who scowl and grunt and speechify in order to make it clear how seriously they're taking their decision to put their military training to personal use and commit crimes. By their logic nobody in a position to punish them should care too much as long as they only steal from and kill a Mexican cartel boss in Mexico. Their logic holds, but their plan does not. Soon they're having to run while lugging many many duffel bags of cash with them through the jungle over mountains and into the ocean while the manhunt/treasure hunt focused on them becomes overwhelming. Sounds like a great setup for a fun adventure flick, a hardcore heist movie or a simple plan gone to shit noir and it's not really any of those things. Hell it could've become a revolution movie, but the whole 'our system is so broken we have to turn to crime to get by' premise gets shame-swallowed in the end with a big sigh and a 'we're still bros, right?' hug-a-thon and at times almost audibly pleads "The troops, who will support the troops?" Ultimately it gets a the go-ahead from me mostly for the cool location shooting and a handful of good action moments, but I really was hoping for a lot more from it.
Viva Riva - Djo Munga - No grand statements here, just a particularly vibrant and sensuous setting (Kinshasa) for a rise and fall of a gangster picture. Great chemistry too between Patsha Bay and Manie Malone. The energy, the urgency and the Congo locale - all rubble and glamour - make it a highly enjoyable flick I'll want to revisit again soon.
Wind River - Taylor Sheridan - Appropriately moody and invested in its victims, but not really a noir... unless you take into account its fatalism about the populace of the titular Wyoming Indian reserve and treat it as a tour of life in the margins. It's a fine procedural that pulls one of the more hotly contentious moves Sheridan's script for Sicario also did, though this time it doesn't feel as jarring due to establishing Jeremy Renner as the main character early on. Like all of Sheridan's projects it's divided the crime fans for offences that frankly don't get brought up for so many other films. I think the reason is because Sheridan clearly has talent and it's frustrating to see someone get so close to delivering something great - it makes the stumbles so noticeable. This one gets points for the remote snowy setting, an excellent payoff to a very tense stand off and for details of rez life (though the fact that it's a white character's story set among American Indians is one of the lightening rod criticisms too).
Crime Flick Picks of the Decade: 251-300
Crime Flick Picks of the Decade: 151-200
Crime Flick Picks of the Decade: 101-150
Crime Flick Picks of the Decade: 51-100
Crime Flick Picks of the Decade: 1-50