This week we are going to look at both sides of the “crime genre” coin. On one side the Crime and Gangster genre appears and on the other the Detective and Mystery genre. Hopefully, we will learn about how intertwined these two genres are by a simple comparing and contrasting of the two.
The Crime and Gangster genre gives us a variety of sub-genres, including, Serial Killer, Heist, Organized Crime, and Gangster. Each of these sub-genre gives the audience an inside look at the psychology of a criminal or group of criminals. I believe a good Serial Killer movie achieves this the best, because filmmakers tend to focus on the “why” question. While the other sub-genres do a good job of showcasing the plotting of the crime. Most Heist films have a simple formula that exemplifies the plotting attributes I mention earlier. The formula is planning the heist followed by the execution of the plan. Heist films are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to organized crime. Now, real organized crime comes in the form of the Mafia; a group of individuals who controls the inner workings of all the crime in a large metropolitan area like Chicago. A lot of the 1940’s and 50’s films focused on the drama in the organized crime scene, labeling them as Film Noir.
On the flip side, the Detective and Mystery genre has a few sub-genres of its own. Law and Order start on the streets with the fine police work from a good Buddy Cop movie. Movies such as Lethal Weapon 2 and Hot Fuzz. Sometimes the job takes a turn for the serous creating thrilling moments. Some films have captured these moments given us a nice insight on the day-and-life of a police officer; films such as Training Day and End of Watch. Other sub-genre include Film Noir, Courtroom Drama and Mystery. Film Noir is basically an old crime drama made between the 1940’s and the 1950’s known for its low-key black-and-white style. As film has evolved over the years, the Noir genre has as well. One of the modern terms for a newer Noir style film is Neo-Noir. Some of the most successful directors in the Neo-Noir genre include, Martin Scorsese, Joel and Ethan Coen, David Fincher, and Quentin Tarantino.
Justice comes in many forms, sometimes it fought over in the court of law. Courtroom Drama’s showcase various court cases ranging from murder to civil liberties, both scenarios have a lot tension that makes for good drama. Some of the most renowned Courtroom Drama films include, Kramer vs Kramer, A Few Good Men, and To Kill a Mockingbird
As you can see there are many ways to view the Crime genre. I want to take a little bit of time and point out a few stand-alone films in the Crime genre. As I explore these films in the crime genre, I would like to name drop a few filmmaker, which I mentioned above, who have made a career out making good crime films.
Let’s start with Martin Scorsese. I would say he’s the king of Crime and Gangster movies. I personally like the Gangs of New York, a film about two gangs and their feud that lead to a blood bath hand-to-hand combat. The two opposing sides consist of the U.S born nativist gang lead by Bill "the Butcher" Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) and The Dead Rabbits, an Irish Catholic immigrant gang lead by Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio). Gangs of New York maybe one of my favorites, but Martin Scorsese has many films that are better and revered as great crime films. Films such as, Goodfellas, Casino and, The Departed.
Joel and Ethan Coen are brother filmmakers who I would call pioneers in the Crime genre. One of my favorite films from them is Fargo. Fargo is both a great dark comedy and crime film. The film takes place in the great white northern states of Minnesota and North Dakota. The film is told from two perspectives; from the detective side, Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) has to investigate the homicides. From the criminal side, Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) hires two guys to kidnap his wife in an attempt to con is boss out of money.
David Fincher is one of my favorite directors in general, but he has displayed some good crime films. The cult classic that everyone praises is Fight Club. This film is more of a dark comedy with crime elements. The story becomes more of an activist type of film, where the activism turns into vandalism. Some of David Fincher’s other works have been labeled as mystery thrillers, and for good reason. The Game, Zodiac, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl all revolve around the protagonist working on solving a mystery. David Fincher even has a film that incorporates Courtroom Drama elements, this film is The Social Network. The film may be known as the Facebook film, but the various legal battles Mark Zuckerberg faced is what makes the film dramatic. The only David Fincher film I haven’t mentioned, that fits the theme, is Se7en. Se7en is one of my favorites of his. I think the film dose a good job of relaying the duality of the crime genre. The film follows two detectives, David Mills (Brad Pitt) and William Somerset (Morgan Freeman), as they unravel the clues in a serial killer case with a killing pattern corresponding to the seven deadly sins.
Briefly, I want to touch on Quentin Tarantino and his crime themed film. There are two that come to mind, Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. Both have renowned status as cult classics. Out of the two, I think I prefer Reservoir Dogs. I like that the film is a heist movie, which focus more on the before-and-after than the heist itself.
There are a lot of good stand-alone crime films, so much so, I could talk about for days. We both know what you came here for, to see my top five franchises in the crime genre. So with nothing further to do here is my top five list:
- The Godfather Trilogy
- Hannibal Series
- The Dark Knight Trilogy
- Sherlock Holmes Series
- The Boondock Saints
- Not including The Godfather films on my list would be sacrilege, even more so if I didn't place them at number one. The Godfather is the epitome of a Gangster movie. The film explores the inner workings of the Corleone crime family. The film was well received by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Godfather Part I won Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Marlon Brando performance, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Parts II and III rack up its fair share of nominations and wins, including another Best Picture win from The Godfather Part II.
- The Hannibal Series features the fictional serial killer, Hannibal Lecter. The films were inspired from a series of books with the same titles. The first film in the series was Manhunter, a film adapted from the book Red Dragon. Will Graham ( William Peterson) is a FBI detective brought in on a case to track down a killer known as “The Tooth Fairy” To do so Graham has to interview a imprisoned, Hannibal Lecter (Brian Cox), who almost killed Graham before becoming imprisoned. The next film in the series is most known and revered. The Silence of the Lambs has a very similar plot as Manhunter, but the detective in this film is Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) and Hannibal Lecter is portrayed by Anthony Hopkins. Just like in Manhunter the deceive has to interview Hannibal Lecter in hopes to catch a killer, in this film they are searching for Buffalo Bill, a serial killer known for skinning young females. Hannibal is a sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, which takes place ten years later. Red Dragon is the prequel to The Silence of the Lambs that was basically a remake of Manhunter. The last film in the series is Hannibal Rising. This film tells the story of Hannibal Lecter as a younger man.
- The Dark Knight trilogy is Christopher Nolan’s version of Batman. Batman as a character is supposed to be on par with Sherlock Holmes when it comes to the uncanny ability to do detective work. The Dark Knight Trilogy maybe one of the greatest set of comic book movies, but it is also a soiled crime film. The themes in The Dark Knight alone give this trilogy enough clout as a crime film. Heck the opening scene start off with a heist. For the rest of the film the Joker causes chaos while Batman tries to stop him. What’s inserting is Christopher Nolan isn't new to these themes. In his three previous films (Following, Memento, and Insomnia) he explores similar themes. To be frank, Christopher Nolan is another filmmaker that I would consider as someone who has made a career out of crime films.
- Sherlock Holmes is a modern telling of the character Sherlock Holmes. The film stars Robert Downey Jr as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson. Even with Sherlock Holmes being the greatest detective, that’s not the main reason I included films about him on my list. I want to praise Guy Ritchie, the director of the Sherlock Films. If Guy Ritchie hadn't directed these films, I would have talked about him in the stand-alone section because he has directed some great crime film. If you liked the Sherlock Films I recommend checking out Guy Ritchie’s other works: Snatch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and RocknRolla.
- The Boondock Saints directed by Troy Duffy, tells a story about two Irish Catholic brothers (Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus) who get a vision from God to clean up Boston. There righteous justice comes in the form of killing evil men. The saint’s killing spree grabs the attention of an FBI agent played by Willem Dafoe. The movie becomes an elaborate game of cat and mouse. In the second movie the brothers come out of hiding and travel from Ireland to Boston to avenge the death of their beloved priest. From my understanding Troy Duffy is working on the third one currently.