Set in North Dakota and Minnesota, this dark comedy features a car salesman who arranges to have his wife kidnapped for ransom, and a pregnant, small town police chief who investigates a pair of highway murders. Any film that has one killer stuffing another into a wood chipper can't be bad. This film works on all levels.
The Informant (2009)
A fact-based comic drama about a pathologically lying FBI whistle-blower in the mid-1990s Archer Daniels Midland lysine price-fixing conspiracy. The film is an adaptation of journalist Kurt Eiechenwald's 2000 book of the same name. Matt Damon, the whistle blowing company embezzler, is brilliant as a stiff from Indiana with a background in science who gets in over his head.
A psychological thriller, set in a small Alaskan town near the Arctic Circle, about a true crime novelist (Robin Williams) who murdered a high school girl, and the world-weary Los Angeles Detective (Al Pacino) out to arrest him. The exhausted cop (who can't sleep because the sun never sets), tries to cover-up the accidental shooting of his partner by switching ballistics evidence. A riveting small town tale set in a northern wilderness.
One Hour Photo (2002)
This tense, leisurely paced psychological drama features a lonely and alienated box store camera film developer (Robin Williams) who develops a pathological fixation on a man, his wife and their boy who he thinks is the ideal American family. His disillusionment triggers an event that leads to his undoing. This film is more about mood and the comparitive bleakness of one man's life than it is about criminal violance.
A gritty detective yarn featuring a pair of homicide investigators (Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman) trying to identify and stop a serial killer whose victims have violated one of the seven sins of gluttony, envy, lust, pride, sloth, greed, and wrath. In the end, the young detective is faced with a sickening dilemma pertaining to the sin of wrath. This film is as graphic and good as it is brutal.
The Departed (2006)
Set in Boston, Massachusetts, the rise and bloody fall of Irish crime boss Francis Costello (Jack Nicholson). The film features two state cops (Leonardo Di Caprio and Matt Damon), one corrupt and the other working undercover to identify him. Loosely based on the life of the real Boston mobster, Whitey Bulger who, after years as a fugitive, was recently arrested in California. A great film with a lot of big stars in big roles.
Donnie Brasco (1997)
In the 1970s FBI agent Joe D. Pistone infiltrated the Bonanno crime family in New York. The agent's (Johnny Depp) undercover stint led to the conviction of dozens of Mafia figures. The FBI pulled the agent, using the name Donnie Brasco, off the case just before his cover was blown. A realistic depiction of a crime family, its hiearchy, and the type of people who become "made" men.
Unlike "The Godfather" that in some ways romanticizes and glorifies the Mafia of the 1940s and 50s, the wiseguys portrayed in Goodfellas are realistically portrayed as violent thugs in cheesy suits. The film is based on the true story of Henry Hill (Robert De Niro), the Irish hood from Brooklyn who masterminded the 1970s multi-million-dollar Air France heist at JFK. In the end, drugs, greed and recklessness bring down this crew of fascinating degenerates. An adaptation of Nicholas Pileggi's 1986 book, Wiseguy.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
This Quentin Taratino, Los Angeles noir classic, features a pair of philosophizing hit men (John Travolta and Robert Jackson), a boxer (Bruce Willis) on the lamb because he didn't throw a fight, and an underworld crime scene cleanup specialist (Harvey Keitel). The film, comprised of loosely connected episodes told in flashbacks and flashforwards, breaks new ground in visual storytelling.
Dead Presidents (1995)
This loosely fact-based film about a group of men returning to the Bronx after combat duty as Marines in Vietnam. The action comes to a head when an armored truck heist goes terribly wrong. The film transforms violence into choreographed art.
The Onion Field (1979)
This film adaptation of Joseph Wambaugh's 1973 nonfiction book of the same name (Wambaugh also wrote the screenplay), tells the story of the 1963 execution style murder of LAPD officer Ian Campbell. Gregory Ulas Powell and an accomplice abducted Campbell and his partner Karl Hettinger at gunpoint and drove them to an onion field near Bakersfield where Powell murdered Campbell. In 1972 Powell's death sentence was commuted to life. Powell, played in the movie by James Woods, never expressed remorse for the cold-blooded murder. Powell died in prison on August 12, 2012 from prostate cancer. The film, an indictment of the California criminal justice system, makes the time and effort to convict these two killers--endless defense motions, court delays, appeals and the like--a part of the story. Young movie goers today may find the film a little slow. I think it is a classic.
Training Day (2001)
This police drama, covering a single day, follows the on-duty actions of a corrupt LA narcotics cop (Denzel Washington), his crew of dirty officers, and a trainee (Ethan Hawk). In this film, except for the trainee who has traded in his uniform for plainclothes, you can't tell the good guys from the bad guys. An unflattering look at Los Angeles, the drug culture, and the cops.
The Firm (1993)
A young hotshot lawyer (Tom Cruise) realizes his prestigious Memphis law firm is corrupt and behind the murders of two former law partners. The young lawyer is caught between the FBI and his murderous employer. The film also stars Gene Hackman as the new attorney's legal mentor. A tense, Sydney Pollack thriller.
The true story of New York Polce Officer Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) who blew the whistle on the culture of police corruption in the 1960s and 70s. Serpico's courage led to the Knapp Commission Hearings in 1971, and a series of police reforms. Based on the nonfiction book of the same title by Peter Maas.
An international crime thriller set in France about former special forces operatives and intelligent agents (Robert De Niro et. al.) whose mission involves stealing a mysterious package from a heavily guarded convoy. Some great car chase scenes.
A Martin Scorsese film about the real life Las Vegas casino manager Frank Rosenthal (Robert De Niro) who ran three casinos in the 1970s and 80s. A gripping and vivid adaptation of Nicholas Pileggi's book of the same title, the film depicts Las Vegas during its gangster era. The movie also stars Sharon Stone as De Niro's out-of-control wife. Also starring Joe Pesci as an out-of-control gangster who, like De Niro, comes to a bad end. Both men had outlived their time as Las Vegas moved out of its gangster era.