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crime thriller

Lawless (2012)

DIRECTOR: John Hillcoat

CAST: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce, Mia Wasikowska, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Dane DeHaan


Based on Matt Bondurant’s 2008 historical novel The Wettest County in the World, a semi-fictionalized account of the Prohibition-era bootlegging activities of his grandfather Jack Bondurant and his grand-uncles Forrest and Howard, Lawless doesn’t reach the level of the bootlegging film classics it aspires toward, but it’s still an entertaining and engaging, if unspectacular, outlaw adventure that’s soaked in enough blood and moonshine to appeal to fans of the genre.  Its release in late August, generally regarded as a dumping ground for films the studios are not confident enough about to release at the height of summer, is a bit of a shame.  Lawless is a well-made movie that deserves a higher profile than it received. Continue reading

The Lookout (2007)

DIRECTOR: Scott Frank


Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode, Isla Fisher, Bruce McGill, Greg Dunham, Carla Gugino


The Lookout is a decent little thriller that sets out with unambitious goals and mostly fulfills them. As the directorial debut of accomplished screenwriter Scott Frank (Dead Again, Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Minority Report), it’s a modest effort that has an interesting premise, does a few things effectively, most things adequately, but too many things weakly to earn it more than a lukewarm recommendation. The best things about it aren’t directly related to the thriller angle: a capable performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the effective development of an individual struggling with brain damage. Continue reading

Shaft (2000)

DIRECTOR: John Singleton


Samuel L. Jackson, Vanessa Williams, Christian Bale, Jeffrey Wright, Toni Collette, Richard Roundtree, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Dan Hedaya, Busta Rhymes, Daniel von Bargen, Pat Hingle, Josef Sommer, Philip Bosco, Mekhi Phifer


Shaft originally hit the screens in 1971, at the height of the ‘Blaxploitation’ era, with Richard Roundtree starring as ‘the black private dick who’s a sex machine to all the chicks’. Almost thirty years later, John Shaft made a return to the screen- sort of. Continue reading

Payback (1999)

DIRECTOR: Brian Helgeland

CAST: Mel Gibson, Maria Bello, Gregg Henry, William Devane, James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson, Lucy Liu, David Paymer, Bill Duke, Jack Conley, John Glover, Deborah Kara Unger


Payback, from director and co-writer Brian Helgeland (Oscar-winning screenwriter of 1997’s LA Confidential in his directorial debut) is a deliciously hard-boiled crime caper and an ode to film noir.  It’s actually more-or-less a remake of John Boorman’s 1967 Point Blank, and both films are based on Richard Stark’s novel The Hunter, but Payback has enough style and personality to stand on its own as an engaging 100 minutes that serves up a noir-esque narrative, supplies a lineup of colorful characters, gives Mel Gibson some juicy one-liners to chew on, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Continue reading

Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)

DIRECTOR: Richard Donner


Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Rene Russo, Joe Pesci, Chris Rock, Jet Li, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Mary Ellen Trainor, Kim Chan


Lethal Weapon 4 is a classic example of a sequel that was assembled to make money, not because of necessity or because there was even anywhere particularly fresh to take the story. There were rumors of its production since 1992, but development only rushed full-steam ahead once the reluctant Mel Gibson was convinced to return with a massive paycheck. In retrospect, no one should have bothered. Continue reading

A Perfect Murder (1998)

DIRECTOR: Andrew Davis

CAST: Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, Viggo Mortensen, David Suchet


A Perfect Murder is a slick, stylish Hitchockian thriller that serves up plenty of diabolical twists and turns (in fact, it’s a loose remake of Hitchcock’s 1954 film Dial M for Murder, although much is changed).  For fans of this genre, it’s a suitably devious little entry. Continue reading

Heat (1995)

DIRECTOR: Michael Mann

CAST: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Ashley Judd, Amy Brenneman, Jon Voight, Mykelti Williamson, Dennis Haysbert, Wes Studi, Ted Levine, William Fichtner, Danny Trejo, Kevin Gage, Natalie Portman


Heat is writer-director Michael Mann’s (Manhunter, The Last of the Mohicans) magnum opus ode to the crime thriller genre, what could have been a generic tale of cops and robbers elevated to crime epic by a level of depth and nuance one doesn’t often find in the genre, assured direction, and a smart screenplay that has something to say beyond hard-boiled crimebusters cliches.  This is just as masterful filmmaking as Mann’s 1992 adventure The Last of the Mohicans, and in a completely different genre and setting.   Continue reading

Assassins (1995)

DIRECTOR: Richard Donner

CAST: Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Banderas, Julianne Moore


If not for the involvement of action star Sylvester Stallone, one senses Assassins would be straight-to-video fare, and that’s where the quality level lies.  For helmer Richard Donner, this is a disappointing step down from the Lethal Weapon series, and doesn’t represent anything more than a mindless diversion for any but the most undemanding of action fans. Continue reading

Lethal Weapon 3 (1992)

DIRECTOR: Richard Donner


Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Rene Russo, Joe Pesci, Stuart Wilson, Steve Kahan, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Mary Ellen Trainor, Nick Chinlund


With the third time around, Lethal Weapon shows beginning signs of age (although it has not yet worn out its welcome as much as it would by the fourth outing ). Lethal Weapon 3 is entertaining, but it lacks the freshness of the first and second installments, settling into a tried-and-true formula. Continue reading

Narrow Margin (1990)

NARROW MARGIN, Ann Archer, Gene Hackman, 1990

DIRECTOR: Peter Hyams

CAST: Gene Hackman, Anne Archer, James B. Sikking, Nigel Bennett, Susan Hogan, J.T. Walsh, M. Emmet Walsh


A loose remake of 1952’s The Narrow Margin, Narrow Margin is a nicely old-school, no-frills, lean and taut meat-and-potatoes thriller that relies more on good old-fashioned cat-and-mouse suspense than flashy action sequences or special effects, with a brisk 99 minute runtime that gets in, gets the job done efficiently, and doesn’t overstay its welcome.  It might not be the deepest or most substantial experience, but for those simply seeking a good old-fashioned Hitchcockian suspense thriller, it’s a solidly diverting time. Continue reading