The Flix List: Pompous Jerks in Cinema

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Having seen many hours of cinematic entertainment, I’ve developed a rather discerning pallet in regard to actors and the various roles they play. And have noted a few here for mass discussion and dissertation. Tough guys. Femme Fatales. Saps. The Superb Louse and the like. There is one classification the has both eluded and annoyed me for some time. To the point where over time, a vast array has been whittled and winnowed down to a mere single digits.

To that end. Allow me to reminisce. And possibly vent while noting with dignified praise.

Pompous Jerks in Cinema:

Everyone has seen at least one example of this variant of this petty annoyance in one film or another. The overbearing boss who has to have things done his way. As with Everet Sloane’s heartless, hard as nails Walter Ramsey in Rod Serling’s Patterns. Or Louis Calhern’s scheming, almost high society bank roller of diamond heists in John Huston’s premiere The Asphalt Jungle. Even William H. Macy’s Vice Principal, and later Principal Wolters in Steven Herek’s Mr. Holland’s Opus comes close but does clear the bar I’ve set quite high.

This time I am skimming the crème de la crème from the top of this petulant June bug of characters. And the actors who proudly wear its mantle of ill timed and impolite words, arguments and actions as a second skin and custom fitted suit. Waving their shortcomings for all to see. Not caring if you wince or not. And sometimes creating a lucrative cottage industry from their less-than-attractive labors.

#3: Joe Pantoliano

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Caught my attention two decades ago as a guest star on NBC’s superb cop show, Hill Street Blues. Where Mr. Pantoliano played a rather sleazy, low level fence paying protection to two dirty cops from another precinct. Forced to wear a wire to entrap the corrupt cops in an intervention that doesn’t end well. Mr. Pantoliano’s resulting beat down and visit to a clinic whining to the Hill’s plain clothes detectives, Washington and LaRue marked this rising upstart as one to watch.

And he didn’t disappoint. Turning in a memorable role as Bail Bondsman, Eddie Moscone. Whose store front business holds the $100, 000 paper (Bail Bond) on Mafia accountant, Charles Grodin’s Jonathan Mardukas in Martin Brest’s Midnight Run, four years later. A laid back, yet born conniver, Eddie has his best bounty hunter, Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) jump through hoops on a cross country jaunt from New York to L.A. to collect the full sum. Unbeknownst to Walsh. Eddie has also sold the paper to a competing bounty hunter, Marvin. (John Ashton) as the Mafia and FBI strain at the leash to intercede. In one of the best road trip comedies of the 1980s!

A respite of sorts was needed as Mr. Pantoliano honed his oily sleaziness in television as obnoxious grown up street punk, turned informant, Vinne Greco in N.Y.P.D. Blue after making his mark in 1993. As Tommy Lee Jones’ wizard Tech Guy, Cosmo Renfro in The Fugitive. Full of himself, yet constantly seeking vindication from Jones’ Deputy Sam Gerard. Mr. Pantoliano is a wonder to watch as he is constantly, effortlessly put in his place. Only to return for more of the same.

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Leaving Mr. Pantoliano wide open for his role as family flunky, money launderer and never to be right hand man, Caesar. In the Wachowski’s Bound from 1996. Wrapping himself in the robe and garments of pompous jerk-dom, Pantoliano’s Caesar is forever stuck as a central cog in a lucrative machine. With no chance at all of advancement and enjoying the illegal, protected fun that his rival, Johnnie Marzzone (Christopher Meloni. Even more spolied and sleazy!) indulges in as the Boss’s ‘made’ and only son.

An opportunity arrives in the form of $2,000,000 in just laundered cash. Which Caesar wishes to make a gift of to his Boss, Gino. (Noisily played by Richard Sarafian). In the hopes of buying some esteem. While being nervously unaware that his stunningly sexy, clever and loose wife, Violet (Jennifer Tilly. Enough said!) and her ex-con girlfriend, Corky (Gina Gershon. Rarely better!) have other plans for Caesar’s big night.

Boys will be boys. And have their own little formalities and rituals for greetings and drinks and such. And Violet has a rough idea of how long each will take. As Corky finds and steals the Samsonite cased money. Violet watches from a safe distance. As Caesar, already a bit hammered, is asked by Gino to give obnoxious Johnnie the same respect he gives him. Things start heading south in a hurry from there. As arguments ensue, egged on by Johnnie. As words, then fists fly and pistols are drawn. Johnnie is dropped first. Then Gino. And Caesar is left to in a panic to clean up the mess.

Creating another window of opportunity for Mr. Pantoliano to ply his craft in another Wachowski project, The Matrix. As the always wise cracking, constantly under appreciated, treasonous, Cypher. Who knows the inner working of The Matrix intimately, but still has dreams of a much more affluent, better life within it. As he feeds information and plots with the much smarter and glib, Agent Smith. Only to lose it rather messily in the third turn before the big subterranean showdown between Neo and Agent Smith.

Leaving the middle slot open for:

#2: Steve Buscemi

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A long suffering Sensei of Pompous Jerkdom. Who started getting noticed in small roles in King of New York, Miller’s Crossing and Barton Fink. Mr. Buscemi firmly planted his feet into this realm of character as Mr. Pink within the first ten minutes of Quentin Tarantino’s updated, 1992 French New Wave heist gone bad premiere, Reservoir Dogs. Going above and beyond in his ridiculous, roundabout, and verbose refusal to add to the crew’s collected tip for their waitress. Only to finally concede to the crew’s money man and boss (Lawrence Tierney) , Joe Cabot’s demand to “Cough up a buck you cheap bastard.”

Setting the stage for a long day’s journey into darkness. As the proposed diamond heist turns into a shooting galley that sends the crew’s five members scattering in all directions with the police close behind. Buscemi’s Mr. Pink has a close quarters shoot out with two foot patrolmen. Takes a car and gets away with the satchel of diamonds. While novice, Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) and veteran. Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) abandon their getaway car and the recently deceased Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino). Make their way on foot. Ambush and blast a responding patrol car in a hail of bullets. Steal another. Only to have Mr. Orange be gut shot for their efforts.

It is in the following passage of time where Mr. Buscemi revels in his character. More than a bit scared and coming off an adrenaline rush. Not really caring as Mr. Orange slowly bleeds out. Comparing notes with Mr. White while trying to figure out what went wrong and why? As Mr. Orange pushes his oily hair away from his face. Continually claiming to be “a professional” while his words and actions reveal otherwise. As a shouting contest become a fist fight and devolves into a pistols drawn standoff before Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen. Never more psychotic!) makes his entrance. And things start to get really interesting!

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Mr. Buscemi’s next sojourn into the realm of the annoyingly absurd would be under the Coen brothers guidance in Fargo four years later. As three time loser and criminal klutz, Carl Showalter. Who has the bad luck of teaming up with Peter Stormare’s psychotic, homicidal hockey fan, Gaear Grimsrud. While constantly falling prey to rapidly running his mouth while his brain is not engaged. Often in a ‘rat-a-tat-tat’, circling around the point, but never getting to it fashion that would make Jack Lemmon smile. All signs of a damaged schlub who has achieved the zenith of his pitiful existence. Trying to make sense of and hold together a kidnapping gone wrong and collect its ransom. While the light at the end of the tunnel recedes and glows ever dimmer.

A tolerable enough situation. Especially opposite Stromare’s Gaere Grimsrud. Who speaks, if ever; in monosyllabic brevity. Until Carl gets shot in the face and events slowly spiral out of control from there.

Mr. Buscemi’s next drive into the deep end of the pool, as “Map of the Stars Eddie” in John Carpenter’s Escape from L.A. later that year. A role that leans far more towards pomposity than being a jerk. With the former writ large. In that Mr. Buscemi’s Eddie knows every inch of post-quake L.A.. And Kurt Russell’s “Snake” Plissken does not, and needs a road map. Eddie’s inner jerk comes out as well. Oil glazed and adorned in a snap brim fedora and two bit, chili mac pimp shark skin. Giving Snake a verbal, never ending run around the razed L.A. city scape. While constantly scheming to sell Snake to the highest bidder as the clock ticks down.

Setting the table for probably Mr. Buscemi’s most memorable role. As Theodore Donald “Donny” Kerabastos. The annoying third wheel, friend and bowling buddy of Jeff Bridges’ incredibly laid back and and equally unwitting “The Dude” Jeffrey Lebowski. And John Goodman’s noise and bluster, Walter Sobchak. In the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski two years later. A masterpiece of mistaken identities. A kidnapping often too convoluted to follow. Low rent, new wave L.A. culture wars. A stolen rug that really tied The Dude’s room together, and of course. Bowling.

Giving Mr. Buscemi’s Donny every opportunity to offer often useless advice. When not inanely questioning everything. While resoundingly being told by Walter to “Shut the f**k up, Donny!” A hapless role, but one given an unique kind of terrier tough dignity for his time on the screen. In a subtle mix of drama, mystery, self medicating musical, surrealism and comedy that bears several viewings to completely understand and appreciate.

Now. Many are probably asking, Who could possibly be a bigger pompous jerk than Joe Pantoliano and Steve Buscemi?!!!” And more than a few may disagree, but that is what this site is for. The polite discussion of film. Its characters and execution. And how those films made their marks.

Okay. Here goes!

#1: Richard Dreyfuss

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First caught my attention in a big way as the insufferably conceited, Thompson-sub-machine-gun-toting gangster, Baby Face Nelson in the John Milius written and directed Dillinger from 1973. A film that for its small budget still has more “Bang for the Buck!” and is more faithful to locations and history than Michael Mann’s recent Public Enemies.

For a relatively wet behind the ears neophyte with some television and meager, walk on film time under his belt. To hold his own and make his character memorable against stalwarts Warren Oates, Ben Johnson and Harry Dean Stanton takes courage and confidence. To pull it off takes talent. And Mr. Dreyfuss does have talent. Which will be explored even further in.

George Lucas’ superbly sound tracked and edited, near documentary, American Graffiti later that same year. Mr. Dreyfuss’ Curt seems oddly out of place and playing younger than the rest of the cast as he rides around with his buddies. Contemplating his future when not falling instantly in love with Candy Clark’s mysterious Marilyn Monroe behind the wheel of a classic White T-Bird hardtop. Or pulling off a rear axle yanking prank on a traffic cop’s patrol car and being initiated into Bo Hopkin’s local gang of street toughs, the “Pharaohs”. When not riding around. Watching “Ozzie & Harriet” through a department store window. Or trying to get together with old flames. Curt’s world is all about Curt. And he lets everyone know it. A constant down beat to a final cruise along the L.A. strip before the uncertainty of growing up in the last days of Camelot. Thankfully, Mr. Dreyfuss had the wisdom to avoid a second trip to the well in More American Graffiti six years later.

In the interim, Mr. Dreyfuss drew attention and credibility to himself in Ted Kotcheff’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Where his younger son, Duddy tries to make a name for himself through land ownership in post WWII Montreal. Chutzpah replaces innate pomposity in a time where Anti-Semitism was still alive and well. As his anger rises and Duddy lashes out and hurts himself and his family’s standing on more than one occasion. In an intriguing, well detailed film well worth its kudos and awards.

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Though there is still room for pomposity as Robert Shaw’s Quint is added to the mix. And the old sea captain goes out of his way to show Hooper that he is not impressed. On land and on the water.

Which brings Mr. Dreyfuss back under Spielberg’s reins for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Where his pompous jerk rises to the occasion in a few notable, confrontational scenes with the federal government. Commenting on a photo of The devil’s Tower in Wyoming. “Yeah, I have one in my living room just like it.” Before trying to get some answers from those who have no intention of giving any.

Mr. Dreyfuss’ next project. Herbert Ross and Neil Simon’s collaboration in The Goodbye Girl allows his character, Elliot Garfield to positively revel in being a pompous jerk for about two thirds of the film. Being an out of work, often egotistical New York actor is to many that phrase’s definition. And Mr. Dreyfuss runs beyond the bleachers with it. Turning Marsha Mason’s single mom, Paula McFadden and her precocious daughter, Lucy’s (Quinn Cummings) lives upside down without a moment’s notice. Storming through their small apartment in a continuous monologue that leave Paula and Quinn rattled until questions are asked and answered late into the night.

Things improve only slightly as domesticity is sought. Though never really attained until after what is possibly the worst stage adaptation of Richard III is endured and Elliot hits rock bottom. Pulls his head  from his backside. And decides that things can only get better with time, Paula and Lucy.

I’m going to combine Mr. Dreyfuss’ next two outings. The Competition from 1980. And Whose Life Is It Anyway the following year. Mr. Dreyfuss’ penchant for being a pompous jerk actually works to his benefit in both. In The Competition, his character, Paul Dietrich is a very talented concert pianist who’s approaching the end of the line, career wise. A solid competitor for grant money, who always comes in second or third. With one final chance at greatness. The problem is Amy Irving’s Heidi Schoonover, whose equally, if not slightly better. Mr. Dreyfuss dial both back as he falls in love with Heidi. And it all boils down to two memorable piano movements.

While in John Badham’s Whose Life Is It Anyway, Mr. Dreyfuss plays sculptor Ken Harrison. Who’s paralyzed from the neck down after a tragic car accident. One moment, the world is your oyster. And the next, bedridden and immobile. What else does Mr. Harrison have left in his arsenal besides his mordant, sometimes morbid wit to berate doctors, nurses and pass the time. In a film that was asking questions about life and dignity thirty years ago. That are still being struggled with today. Kudos to Mr. Dreyfuss, Badham and a superlative cast for taking on such a project!

Which brings us to Mr. Dreyfuss’ most recent indulgence in jerky pomposity. His role as political, world events bad guy, Alexander Dunning in RED. Playing a medium-sized fish in a very large pool with gusto and elan. Who thinks he’s more clever, smarter and well-protected from those he’d done wrong than he truly is. Arrogant, conceited and always believing he has the upper hand. Until confronted by Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich. Mr. Dreyfuss isn’t on the screen for long, but those moments are golden!

Overall Consensus:

The three actors mentioned have exceptional bodies of work. With Mr. Pantoliano and Mr. Buscemi finding comfortable niches in television. Specifically, HBO’s The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire. Which does not detract from their abilities in earlier and hopefully future roles to be fascinated and repulsed by their characters and performances. One of the reasons we go to films. To be amused, entertained and sometimes shocked. And these three hold that banner high.

With Mr. Dreyfuss leading the pack in consistently make my eyes roll back as I whispered “Aw, Jeez!” at his occasional blatant audacity. Only to make it something of a trademark to look forward to with the passage of time.


Check out Jack’s profile page and links to his other reviews



Well, what do you think of Jack’s picks of pompous jerks in cinema? Do share your thoughts about this list in the comments.

The Flix List: Great Saps in Cinema

Greetings, all and sundry! I have decided to stick with the idea of Lists that Ruth suggested a few weeks ago. Which has presented me with a plethora of ideas. And the desire to tidy up loose ends and and possibly expound on a certain category of character in film. First suggested by iluvcinema in her response to my article on The Top Ten Femme Fatales on FrontRoomCinema. To that end, I proffer a Rogues Gallery of Mugs, Sad Sacks, Fall Guys, Stooges and men who think they are the smartest ones in the room and pay the consequences for it. Allow me to introduce.

To this end, allow me to introduce one of the most talented, yet underrated actors of the past century. Whom many may recognize as a poster boy for Disney during the 1960s and later as television’s proverbial Perfect Dad in My Three Sons. A worthy topic for another time. Though now, I would like to plunge back to the earlier times and films which firmly planted the subject of this dissertation on the Hollywood map while specializing in a specific and memorable type of character.

#10: Steve Buscemi’s Mink in Miller’s Crossing (1990)

The low life bon vivant, conniver, coke head and suggested homosexual lover of J.E. Freeman’s Eddie Dane. Though Buscemi isn’t on film long. He makes exquisite use of his role. Playing fast and loose with The Dane and John Turturro’s Bernie Bernbaum affections. Mink inadvertently sets himself up to be shot in the face at Miller’s Crossing in Bernie’s place. Creating one heck of an unseen plot line while allowing Bernie to perform all kinds of mischief.

#9: Frank Sinatra and The Rat Pack in Ocean’s Eleven (1960)

What chance does five Las Vegas casinos have against being robbed simultaneously during the rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ New Year Eve’s night by a dozen WWII commandos looking for a score? Slim to non existent. Until one of their men dies of a stroke crossing The Strip immediately after the festivities. With a mob fixer looking for clues, Ocean decides to ship their swag out in Richard Conte’s coffin. The Rat Pack is in full attendance at a local chapel as the whispered sounds and word of Conte and his coffin being cremated stops everything in its tracks.

#8: Oliver Reed as Dr. Hal Raglan in David Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979)

A well intentioned psychologist who uses controversial methods to physically manifest his patients’ inner angst and anger in ways as shocking as they are ugly. The good doctor is divorced and his institutionalized ex, Samantha Eggar takes her anger to whole new level. Giving sudden birth to small, childlike and incredibly strong creatures that carry out her reign of terror on Hal and his new family. Not for the faint of heart!

#7: Orson Welles’ Michael O’Hara in The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

Who falls head over heels for Rita Hayworth’s scheming Elsa Bannister. Bored, blonde and married to unexciting, though constantly looking for kicks, Everett Sloane. His and Elsa’s game involves another couple. A proposed fake death, A real murder and $5000.00. That ends with a chase through Chinatown and its final showdown between Elsa and her husband. With pistols blazing in a Hall of Mirrors inside The Crazy House.

#6: Edward G. Robinson as Professor Richard Wanley in The Woman in the Window (1944)

An absolute, little known Noir gem from expressionist Fritz Lang. The professor is unassuming and has it all. A wife and son. A house in the suburbs and a sudden attraction for a portrait in a gallery’s huge window. The professor meets the portrait’s model, an alluring Joan Bennett. Alice. Who is much more than appears to be. A very hard boiled dame. The professor is hooked. Starts to lie to his wife and others to see Alice again. Until her boyfriend and possible pimp shows up. A death occurs and the professor’s sedate life heads South in a hurry!
Suggested by iluvcinema

#5: Joseph Cotten as novelist Holly Martins in The Third Man (1949)

Who travels to post war Vienna in time for the friend who had invited him, Harry Lime’s burial. A stranger in a strange land. Holly tries to get a grasp on the situation while rubbing elbows with expatriates, refugees, British and Russian troops and Harry’s girlfriend, Anna. Who may be a Russian agent and link to Harry. A Black Market kingpin who sells diluted Penicillin and has a lot to answer for. Holly gets played by everyone. Especially the Brits and their Intelligence Officer, Major Calloway. Methodically played by Trevor Howard. Who coerces Holly to be his “Dumb, decoy duck” in flushing Harry out of Vienna’s maze like sewers.

#4: Warren Beatty’s Pulitzer Prize seeking reporter, Joe Frady in The Parallax View (1974)

One of the last great conspiracy films of the late 20th century. As Frady dusts off the cobwebs the assassination of a Senator at the Seattle Space Needle he and a few others had witnessed a year before. Under Alan J. Pakula’s deft direction and a superb supporting cast, Frady moves slowly and is drawn into random events that end in unexplained, accidental deaths. Following leads and getting inside the Parallax Corporation. Then finding himself suddenly in way over his head.

#3: Sterling Hayden’s thuggish Johnny Clay in John Huston’s superb The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

A two-time loser who wants nothing more than to make a bunch of money. Leave the city and get back to his Quarter Horses in Kentucky. Brought into a big time diamond heist led by just paroled yegg and safe cracker, ‘Doc’. Sam Jaffe. Who needs an expendable Hooligan while hiding his urges for very  young, nubile girls. Johnny takes on the role of Jaffe’s confidant and protector as the heist is pulled off with some last second intervention by the police. Only to be double-crossed and shorted by the rich old men financing the operation. Johnny is gut shot protecting Doc and manages to get home just as the police close in.

#2: Timothy Carey’s monumental, gaunt and doomed Private Maurice Ferol in Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957)

Carey is nothing more than a soldier in the French army during WWI. Whose platoon is assigned the task of taking ‘The Ant Hill’. A reinforced position with artillery and machine guns. The problem is. Carey’s and his mates’ task has been going on for more than a month of Trench Warfare that consistently ends in stalemate. A new Commanding Officer wants a maximum effort that has Kirk Douglas’ Colonel Dax leading more of the same. The new CO gets mad and wants Dax to choose three men at random and have them Court Martialed and shot for Desertion. Carey’s Pvt. Ferol is one of them and is given every opportunity to bluster and bully at first. Then break down and grovel as the hour approaches. Definitely Carey’s best and most unencumbered performance on film!

#1: Elisha Cook Jr. – The Grand Old Man of Saps!

Whether he’s giving life to George Peatty. Soft spoken, quiet nebbish with a domineering wife, Sherry (Razor tongued Marie Windsor) in Kubrick’s The Killing (1958). Two bit gunsel, Wilmer Cook in The Maltese Falcon (1941). Just looking to get by Harry Jones in The Big Sleep (1946). Or paranormal incident survivor, Watson Pritchard in House on Haunted Hill (1959).

Mr. Cook reigns supreme in a highly specialized niche. An every man’s everyman. Buttressed by many small, though meaningful roles as  the landlord, Mr.Nicklas in Rosemary’s Baby (1971). Near invisible, Mr. Bunker in The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972). Cody in Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973). Soft spoken Willie in Electra Glide in Blue (1973). And a cameo amongst many as Carl in The Outfit (1973) and as Eli the Taxi Driver in Wim Wenders’ Hammett (1982).
Mr. Cook had made a cottage industry and consistently utilized career as a balding, kind of flabby and meek, high voiced nobody with something to say. Often quietly. Sometimes pathetically. Yet, always memorably!

Check out Jack’s profile page and links to his other reviews



Thoughts on
this list of Great Saps in Cinema? Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Rental Picks: Miller’s Crossing and Road to Perdition

I finally got around to seeing Miller’s Crossing this past weekend, but instead of my usual Weekend Roundup, I decided to review another gangster movie that I’ve been wanting to do for quite a while. Both of these films are set in the Prohibition era of the early 30s, starring two laconic anti-heroes. Interestingly, both also feature a distinct cinematography that is pivotal to the quality of each film as a whole. Despite the similarities though, these are two very different films in their own right.

Miller’s Crossing (1990)

I’m praying to you! Look in your heart. I’m praying to you… look in your heart… look in your heart! You can’t kill me… look in your heart.

This is what a gangster noir genre looks like in the hands of the Coen Brothers (directed by Joel, produced and written by both Joel and Ethan). The film focuses on Tom Reagan, an ‘brains over brawns’ adviser to a crime mob boss Leo whose loyalty is divided between Leo and his rival Caspar as the two gangs vie for control over the city.

The main conflict revolves around a crook named Bernie (whom Caspar called ‘Schmatte’ which is a Yiddish term for a worthless man). Caspar wants Leo to kill but because Leo’s in love with Bernie’s sister Verna, he refuses to do so. Caspar is furious over this, and Tom advises Leo not to risk a gangster war over a woman. Things gets complicated when Tom ends up bedding Verna and gets right in the middle one double-crossing scheme after another.

This genre isn’t my cup of tea, but I was compelled to see this as I’m curious to see more of the Coens’ work after seeing True Grit. Plus, this one stars one of my fave Irish actors Gabriel Byrne. I wasn’t disappointed and Byrne is indeed perfect as the forlorn protagonist with his smoldering eyes. The guy is born to wear a fedora and he looks fantastic in those retro overcoats. I’m also glad this isn’t as bloody as I had thought (for a gangster flick at least), but I’m not saying it’s not suspenseful. In fact, there are lots of edge-of-your-seat moments throughout, especially the scenes at the Miller’s Crossing forest. Another memorable scene takes place in one of the mobster’s house, during which a relentless machine-gun shootout is set to a sentimental Irish ballad ‘Danny Boy.’ It sure is an effective technique that enhances the impact of the scene. It reminds me of a scene in John Woo’s Face/Off where the soothing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ is playing during a vicious gun-battle scene. Finney was all bad-ass in that scene, wow… “The old man’s still an artist with a Thompson,” one guy quipped. Indeed.

As for Byrne, a lot of people say this is one of his finest work and I have to concur. He’s the ‘moral’ center of the movie though he’s not exactly a moral man with his drinking and gambling addiction practically driving his actions. But he’s a complicated man, which makes him a perfect anti-hero. Nothing is clear cut for him, and he’s in constant contemplative mode and remains an enigma ’till the end. Byrne imbues Tom with such cool charisma in virtually every scene he’s in, but his character is one that is hard to love, even if one can’t help but feel for him. John Turturro (Bernie), Jon Polito (Caspar), Marcia Gay-Harden (Verna) and Albert Finney (Leo) are all excellent, but it’s Finney that I think are particularly notable.

This is a movie I’m certain I won’t watch again because it’s just too bleak and cold for my taste, but it’s more than worthwhile just to see Byrne in his best performance. I do appreciate the way the story is told and the dialog is witty and peppered with amusing black humor, as to be expected from the Coens. As I said before, the cinematography by frequent Coens-collaborator Barry Sonnenfeld is also worth checking out. That fedora blown in the wind at the start of the movie is pretty iconic, though upon further reading, it’s just a style the Coens like, there’s no hidden meaning behind it.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


Road to Perdition (2002)

There are many stories about Michael Sullivan. Some say he was a decent man. Some say there was no good in him at all. But I once spent 6 weeks on the road with him, in the winter of 1931. This is our story.

I saw this months ago, but somehow I still remember much about it. Road to Perdition is based on a graphic novel by Max Allan Collins, about a hitman named Michael Sullivan. Like Tom Reagan, Mr. Sullivan is an intelligent man of few words whose loyalty is tested. He sees his crime boss John Rooney as a father figure, but things take an unexpected turn after his eldest son inadvertently witnessed a cold-blooded murder done by Rooney’s son, Connor. Unable to convince Connor that he and his son would keep the matter confidential, Sullivan is forced to flee with his young son on a quest to avenge the very people he once held dear.

There is a parallel father-son theme going on in the movie, one between Michael Sullivan and Michael Jr., and the other between John and Connor. Both Sullivan and Rooney want to protect their respective sons. Their predicament is a direct result of what each of their son had done that brought them to this crossroads of life, of which there seems to be no escape.

British director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) did a smashing job creating a somber 1930s setting and he seems to have a thing for shots in the rain, which are beautifully captured by cinematographer Conrad L. Hall. This riveting drama grabbed my attention from start to finish and the unhurried pacing never let my attention waver. Mendes didn’t seem concerned with making a gangster flick with all the genre action stuff people expect to see, but instead he’s more invested in the characters that make the storyline so compelling. A lot of the violence happen off-screen, which goes to show that blood and gore aren’t always necessary to bring about terror on screen. Instead, Mendes relies on superb editing, camera work and music to create a heightened level of suspense throughout.

Whilst Miller’s Crossing looks pretty darn good, this one is amazing. Nearly every scene is frame-worthy, and Mendes seems to have a love affair with rain in his movies. The scenes set in rainy nights are magnificent, especially the street shootout scene towards the end, that perhaps is one of the most iconic rainy scenes ever filmed. It’s breathtaking for two reason: one – the eerie and powerful way the scene itself was shot; and two – the significance of that scenario for the characters involved.

The performances are brilliant. Mr. Sullivan is played with moody perfection by Tom Hanks. I’m not used to seeing Hanks playing such an amoral man, but he’s quite compelling here in what I believe is one of his understated yet astounding performances of his impressive career. Paul Newman is well, Paul Newman, the classy actor who always adds gravitas to everything he’s in. Even though he’s the mobster boss, he’s not a heartless man. In fact, he genuinely cares for the Sullivans and his grief over the whole situation is apparent. The Brits make up the bad guys in the movie: Daniel Craig as Connor and Jude Law as a crime-scene photographer/hitman hired to kill the Sullivans. Both are very effective and convincingly evil in their roles. In fact, Craig here is as far away from the suave and charming Bond as one could get.

I somehow saw the ending coming, but still it’s heart-wrenching yet satisfying. It ties up nicely to that quote that opens the movie and offers a bit of hope to Michael Jr. that he won’t follow in the footsteps of his father. This is one gangster movie besides The Untouchables that I can say I don’t mind watching again. Even if this genre isn’t your thing, I urge you to see this. You won’t be disappointed.

4 out of 5 reels


Has anybody else seen these movies? I’d love to hear what you think of them.