April 2024


crime drama

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

Zodiac (2007)

zodiacDIRECTOR: David Fincher

CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Chloe Sevigny, Brian Cox, Elias Koteas, Dermot Mulroney, Philip Baker Hall, John Carroll Lynch


While it tells the true unsolved story of one of America’s most notorious serial killers–at least that which is publicly known–Zodiac is not a thriller, at least not in a conventional sense.  Rather, it’s a police procedural and docudrama.  Based on a true crime book by Robert Graysmith, it puts the focus not on Zodiac himself, who remains a shadowy, elusive, nameless and faceless figure (although the movie’s viewpoint is blatantly slanted toward one suspect), but on the men (including Graysmith himself) who were involved in the long-running, ultimately fruitless manhunt.  To this end, Zodiac is a bit like a souped-up, two-and-a-half hour episode of Law & Order, and will appeal to some of the same audience fascinated by the details of police procedure and investigating.  It depicts the above with slick polish and is often intriguing, but an uneven pace and the inevitable open ending will frustrate some viewers not strongly interested in the subject matter. Continue reading

The Proposition (2005)

DIRECTOR: John Hillcoat

CAST: Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Emily Watson, David Wenham, John Hurt


With The Proposition, Australian director John Hillcoat and screenwriter/composer Nick Cave have taken the saying “revenge is a dish best served cold” and taken it up—or down, depending on one’s perspective—a notch. The Proposition is considered an unconventional Western, but it doesn’t deal in clear-cut black hats and white hats or simple shoot-em-ups. Brutal, unromanticized, and mercilessly gritty to the point of being disturbing, it’s a grim, haunting odyssey that doesn’t deal in typical crowd-pleasing Western tropes and conventions, at least not straightforwardly.

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Ash Wednesday (2002)

DIRECTOR: Edward Burns

CAST: Edward Burns, Elijah Wood, Rosario Dawson, Oliver Platt, James Handy, Michael Mulhern


Actor Edward Burns’ latest film as writer/director, like his 1998 drama Looking Back, is clearly an attempt to switch gears from romantic comedies into something more serious, but while Ash Wednesday clearly wants to be one of those Catholic guilt-suffused Irish-American mob melodramas, a moody gritty tale of guilt and redemption with fundamentally decent but damned characters seeking redemption but getting drawn back into the criminal lifestyle they tried to leave behind, it ends up being a lesser entry that has a feeling of being made by some film school students—-ambitious, not entirely untalented, but inexperienced and in over their heads—-trying to cosplay Scorsese-lite.

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The Score (2001)


CAST: Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Marlon Brando, Angela Bassett


The Score isn’t a classic entry in the heist movie genre, but it’s a slick little diversion that sets fairly modest goals and achieves them, gives us some interesting interplay between accomplished actors, and treads familiar ground with enough assurance to make us not mind coming along for the ride. 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

Switchback (1997)


Jeb Stuart


Dennis Quaid, Danny Glover, Jared Leto, R. Lee Ermey, Ted Levine, William Fichtner, Leo Burmester


Unlike most entries in the serial killer/thriller genre, Switchback moves at a leisurely pace, relying more on character development than jolts, but it’s a solid effort that sets itself apart from standards of the genre in some ways yet is a worthy entry among them. Continue reading

Kiss the Girls (1997)

DIRECTOR: Gary Fleder


Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Cary Elwes, Tony Goldwyn, Alex McArthur, Bill Nunn, Jay O. Sanders, William Converse-Roberts, Brian Cox, Jeremy Piven, Gina Ravera, Richard T. Jones, Roma Maffia



Crime author James Patterson is a bit like the dime novels you might snatch up at the airport; he doesn’t churn out the stuff of Shakespeare, but it’s a quick, easy read, brisk and compulsively page-turning.  Likewise, Kiss the Girls is such a film, a decent little mystery thriller that provides a brisk couple of hours when looking for something reasonably diverting.  It’s bolstered by a couple of strong lead performances, but one feels a more stylish, atmospheric director like David Fincher (who helmed the darker and more disturbing Se7en, also starring Morgan Freeman) could have done more with the material than the TV-movie look and feel of the comparatively nondescript Gary Fleder. Continue reading

Ransom (1996)

DIRECTOR: Ron Howard

CAST: Mel Gibson, Gary Sinise, Rene Russo, Delroy Lindo, Lili Taylor, Liev Schreiber, Donnie Wahlberg, Evan Handler, Brawley Nolte


Ron Howard is on a roll, and for his latest venture, coming on the heels of last year’s docudrama Apollo 13, he’s turned to the thriller genre, with this loose remake of the 1956 Glenn Ford film of the same name.  Ransom isn’t flawless, but Howard’s taut direction, a twisty-turny script by Richard Price and Alexander Ignon, and a capable cast add up to a slick thriller that provides a mostly solid couple hours of diversion. Continue reading

The Professional (1994)

DIRECTOR: Luc Besson

CAST: Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman, Danny Aiello


From French director Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita) comes this distinctly European-flavored action thriller that boasts some kinetic action sequences but has at its core an unlikely relationship between a lonely hitman and a young girl. Continue reading