Our month of crime and punishment continues with this round of film recommendations. We’ve got comedies and thrillers: because crime doesn’t always have to be serious.
Gracie Hart is a Special Agent. She’s a grubby, bolshie special agent of the FBI. She hates wearing dresses and would rather beat up her co-workers for calling her a girl.
She’s completely out of her comfort zone when she has to go under cover as a pageant contestant at the Miss America. She wears heels, gets plucked and waxed, and has to completely change herself to help save the rest of the contestants.
What results is quite hilarious. Sandra Bulllock is a fantastic, clueless girl who knows nothing about girl-things and there’s some real heart and magic as she transforms – literally – and her expectations are smashed. It’s a funny, heart warming film about finding out about people’s inner beauty.
As a crime comedy film, it really works, as well. It’s action packed and full of mystery, and even if you find the ending predictable, it’s still fun and thrilling.
The thing about crime and punishment, is that in it rawest form, it’s about protection. Protecting people against others. While there’s a great number of texts about protecting people against other people, there’s relatively few about protecting them against threats they never even remotely saw coming.
Which is why my recommendation is Men in Black. It’s an interesting case, as it plays very strongly with conspiracy theories. Mostly because the Men in Black operate in such a way as to retcon anyone who sees aliens.
In the world of Men in Black, there’s countless races coming in and out of Earth on a regular basis. Technology, history and politics have all been influenced by this and there’s one single reason why we don’t know about it. They have a lot of responsibility both in their professional lives as well as their personal ones. A member of the department cuts all ties – they’re a secret to everybody *ahem*.
The first film was probably the most well received and is still a classic. It’s a well rounded film – action, humour, mystery, slight romance, slight horror and is generally a well made film.
Ghost in the Shell is set in Hong Kong, and follows the exploits of Section 9, who deal with terrorists and crimes threatening their government and their current case is an unknown figure called The Puppet Master. They haven’t got a clear idea who this person is. With the use of such things as thermal optic camouflage they use all the weapons and gear they’ve got to follow their leads to the identity of the Puppet Master, before they can cause any more damage.
With the way things are going with technology with prosthetic limbs and also how internet can be used on other things instead of a laptop, it would only be a matter of time before the world could look like something you see in the anime film Ghost In The Shell. However with all the advancement in technology and applying it to the human body, giving people access to the internet it also shows the risks of having such a mechanical body.
The film demonstrates what the “connected self” might mean in terms of new crimes: where you could be directly infected with a virus and do such things as being manipulated to commit crimes without being fully aware and even have your memory erased and replaced with false ones. The film looks at an evolution of crime, where criminals with high programming skills and knowledge of what implants and defenses their target have, can hack into their cyberbrains and program their victims them to do whatever they want, without the criminal having to be there.
Say the name Hannibal Lecter to someone, and their mind will probably immediately jump to The Silence of the Lambs and Anthony Hopkins’ dead-eyed and snakelike performance. But not me. My mind always jumps Michael Mann’sManhunter.
Manhunter is an adaption of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, the first of the Hannibal Lecter books, and features William Petersen (he of CSI fame) as Will Graham, an FBI profiler on the trail of a serial killer known as “The Tooth Fairy”. To do this, he finds himself turning to Hannibal Lecktor (the spelling was changed for legal reasons), a serial killer he caught years before, for advice.
If this all sounds familiar, there’s a reason for that – at a first glance, Harris’ first two Lecter books seem to have almost identical plots, but it’s the differences between the protagonists that ultimately make Manhunter a far superior film to The Silence of the Lambs.
Unlike the relatable wide-eyed naivety of Jodie Foster’s rookie Clarice Starling, Petersen plays Graham as cold and detached, and the self-loathing he feels because of his ability to empathise with the killers he is hunting is palpable. Most telling though, is the fact that he has the same wild-eyed intensity as Brian Cox’s excellent Lecktor. It’s an understated and gripping performance and it’s rare for a film to have a protagonist that you never really feel that you can fully trust.
The film itself is just as intense as its main character, dripping with a growing sense of dread and tension, filling the movie with an almost unbearable amount of slow-burning suspense until the atmosphere is a tense as a drawn bowstring. And all the while, Graham’s grip on his own mental state is slowly unravelling. It’s a remarkable film that will leave you on the edge of your seat with your heart pounding.
Red Dragon was later adapted again in 2002 by Brett Ratner and even though it starred Anthony Hopkins as Lecter (who, to be honest, was really phoning it in by this point) it pales in comparison to Mann’s taut, suspenseful and atmospheric original.
The on-screen combination of Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, combined with the off-screen talents of Guy Ritchie (directing) and Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham and Simon Kinberg on scriptwriting duty led to one of the most surprising films of 2009 (surprising, because it was so good). Reinvigorating Arthur Conan Doyle’s outstanding sleuth for a new generation, it’s quite fabulous how the setting was kept, and much of the traits of the original Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, while at the same time making it all approachable.
This film did a great job of introducing its characters and how they functioned in this interpretation of Victorian society. What’s perhaps most interesting, in among all the mystery and supposed supernatural goings on that the film follows in the wake of Lord Blackwood’s evil machinations, is Robert Downey Jr.’s presentation of Sherlock Holmes. Whenever I watch this film, I can’t help but feel that there is a lot of Tony Stark in his performance, but with less of the desire to be in the public eye.
To some, I’m sure, the modernising process is almost sacrilegious, such is the reverence that Doyle’s writing is often treated with, but I’m glad that Sherlock is less stuffy than previous incarnations. It makes the character more believable and the crimes something that you want Sherlock and Watson to get to the root of, because Sherlock makes it all so interesting. I also think Guy Ritchie as the choice of director was a good one, because of his “appreciation” of the British criminal underworld.
Now if only a third film would be made…
There’s one name that is guarenteed to appear in any list of decent crime films. Martin Scorsese, director of films like Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, is one of the kings of crime movies – ranging from the mob wars of early New York to the economic crimes of modern Wall Street.
His 2006 film The Departed is, to my shame, the only one of his crime films that I’ve seen. I’ve seen a couple of his other films (a historical fable and psychological horror respectively) but for today’s topic this is my only choice.
The Departed is actually a remake of a Hong Kong film called Infernal Affairs (yet another film I haven’t seen) but it’s apparently a significant departure. The story follows two men – a police officer and a gangster – who each infiltrate the other’s organisation. When the police, and the mob, both realise that they have a mole (or, as the film would have it, a rat) the race is on for the two spies to figure out who the other is first.
What follows is a tense, knife-edge thriller, as the two run rings around each other and the bodycount slowly climbs. It looks incredible, it’s amazingly well written, and the already phenominal actors (Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and Marky-Mark Whalberg) are unanimously doing their best work. It’s not just a great crime film – it’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen!
So it’s almost surreal when people say this is one of Scorsese’s weaker films. If this isn’t him at his best then… wow – I really really need to see Goodfellas.