There’s a treasure trove of crime and thriller films lurking online – often buried in the backlists on the big streaming services. We found half a dozen A-list actors running the gauntlet in four unusually offbeat flicks, taking inspiration from across the crime genre. So read on for Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman (channelling Robert de Niro at his very best), Antonio Banderas, Al Pacino and Liam Neeson – as each of them gets to grips with a legal thriller, a cop-gone-really-wrong drama, an American interpretation of a Nordic noir classic, and a plot-twisting psychological duel worthy of Stephen King…
Despite being made in 2016, Misconduct is a total throwback to the type of legal thriller from the 1980s which you rented from the 7-11 on a sad, stay-in Saturday night when there was nothing else on the shelf. It even has Al Pacino and Tony Hopkins providing heavyweight grandstanding actingness, just like a 1980s adaptation of a John Grisham novel.
Although the overly ambitious, none-too-bright and none-too-scrupulous young lawyer wasn’t quite Keanu Reeves, Byung-hun Lee as a terminally ill accountant-turned assassin was awesome. In retrospect, however, we couldn’t quite understand why his character was roaring around the place on a hyperbike, killing witnesses and moving corpses.
One of those movies which was roundly enjoyable while we watched it but which made sod-all sense when we tried to piece together the plot afterwards. Perhaps more pizza would have helped. Or a serious storyline…
Most film critics simply didn’t get Cold Pursuit when it came out; they were too busy making political points at Liam Neeson’s foot-in-mouth moment at a press conference. And plenty of people will have swerved around it, thinking this is just another unlikely old-bloke tough-guy Taken clone.
Mistake! Like the original Norwegian film upon which it’s based, Cold Pursuit is gloriously quirky; a mature mix of offbeat humour and matter-of-fact murder. Think Fargo with more snow-ploughs; a black comedy of catastrophic consequences as one deadly domino topples into the next gangster along the line. The subtle humours transfers surprisingly well from Scandinavia to the Colorado mountains.
This is easily Neeson’s best performance since he became an unlikely action hero – a great shame that the movie itself was overshadowed by meejah hoohah.
Advertised as ‘Misery meets Hannibal Lecter’, Black Butterfly is a psycho-drama stuffed with so many plot reversals that it almost meets itself in the middle. It’s just as well it didn’t get a general release at the movies, because you’ll need to hit the pause button half a dozen times for a ‘no, wait, didn’t he just…’ time-out.
Antonio Banderas plays blocked alcoholic writer who picks up the hitchhiker from hell, in a story which initially seems to have been lifted directly from Stephen King’s Misery. Instead, BB is actually based on an original French two-hander, and goes off in its own weird direction.
Genuinely unpredictable and hence entertaining – subtitles are handy because you’ll need to know what Banderas is saying and his diction is appalling. I said: HIS DICTION IS…
Nicole Kidman is utterly outstanding in Destroyer; a small-scale hardboiled cop drama which draws deeply on old-school influences like Serpico and Taxi Driver.
Told in two timelines, she’s a seriously raddled, alcoholic LAPD detective in the present day, taking hard-assed to a whole new dimension. Physically stick-thin, Detective Bell compensates by unleashing a torrent of hostility. Her teenage daughter has learned by example, and pushes at every boundary.
In her earlier life, the detective was a beautiful but brittle 20-something, working undercover to bring down a coke-snorting, gun-running gang of bank robbers. And it’s the fall-out from that misbegotten operation which has come back to haunt her…
The story is nothing new but it’s perfectly presented in stark, desaturated tones of urban desolation. This is a film about twilight; about shadows, and they are ever present. With a lesser actor this could’ve so easily been a so-what movie – but Kidman turns Detective Bell from an angry misanthrope into a subtle, complex character. Her physical fragility only accentuates the brutality of the physical and emotional ordeal she endures.
Not an easy film to watch, at times. But a near-perfect pay-off at the end. (And look out for the moments where Bell’s eyes are clear blue. For most of the movie they are a washed-out muddy grey tone but – when her true spirit is revealed – they’re shown to be the colour of a crystal sky).
Tiny budget. Huge performance. Stunning filming.