Criminally Different (A Baker’s Dozen Of Underrated Crime Films)
What makes a good crime film? Well, there has to be an innocent whose eyes are opened and a criminal on a mission, and there’s usually someone trapped between the two, creating a moral problem. But the usual suspects, like ‘The Usual Suspects’, are absent here. In any top ten list you’ll find ‘Bonnie & Clyde’, ‘The Godfather’, ‘The French Connection’ and ‘Chinatown’, but with so many rare gems surfacing on streaming channels and Blu-Ray, missing them would be a crime. I’ve culled this list from films mentioned in columns past and present. How many have you seen?
L’Homme Du Train (Man on the Train)
A cool hitman and a retired teacher cross paths in a small town, and much to the surprise of both yearn for each other’s lives. It’s probably the only crime film in which the key scene involves a pair of nice carpet slippers. There’s a remake in English with Donald Sutherland substituting for the late, great Jean Rochefort.
The Candidate (El Reino)
A Spanish politician has his high-class lifestyle exposed in the press. One man is picked to take the fall for his corrupt party, but he decides not to go down without a fight. It’s a complex, clever film beautifully directed, terrifically suspenseful, with a lead that reminds me of a young Dustin Hoffman.
A downsizing businessman is gallingly forced to sell his apartment to a younger, richer family. But he still has the keys and takes to sitting in his old home pondering the fleeting nature of success when the new family is out. Unfortunately, the building’s caretaker knows his secret…
Darkness In Talinn
A mastermind plans to cut the power to Estonia’s capital in order to steal gold bullion, not realising that his wife is surviving on a life-support machine in the inner city. Cool, dark – and a heist.
Contratiempo (The Invisible Guest)
A classic set-up: A man wakes up in a hotel room with a dead woman in his bed. He hires a tough lawyer to get him off the hook, she she has an agenda of her own…
Knives Out/ The Last of Sheila
Rian Johnson brilliantly reinvented the murder mystery by playing it straight but nodding to every trope in the whodunnit playbook, with a hilarious turn from Daniel Craig and enough in-jokes to out-Sheila The Last Of Sheila, still the murder mystery to beat them all, a Riviera puzzle-game with six guilty yacht-bound suspects. It was penned by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins and provides all the clues on screen.
Freebie And The Bean
It has been condemned by LGBT+ groups over the years but as a gay man I have no problem with it at all. Sometimes people are oversensitive. Old-school cops Alan Arkin and James Caan bicker like old lovers, conduct irresponsible street shoot-outs and whack a police car through a tower block – six floors up, from the director of ‘The Stunt Man’.
A girl goes missing in a crowd, a murderer rehearses his kill, and the victim’s partner must sacrifice everything he has left to uncover the truth. The haunting original version (now remastered) still upsets. The film did for sunlit petrol stations what Jaws did for swimming.
Michel Serrault stars in the true story of a horrific wartime psychopath, a kindly doctor obsessed with curing the sick while at the same time sending Jews to their deaths. The image of the doctor cycling in his billowing cape will stalk your dreams.
In a quiet village, the police know murders are being committed – but why? Remarkably there’s no dialogue, until the end song reveals the unexpected truth.
The Crimson Rivers I & II
Mismatched cops, one street-smart, one rural, must solve an impossible crime involving a sinister mountain college and a nasty line in eugenics. The sequel flips the dynamic.
Iceland’s traceable bloodlines reveal a series of deaths, although the most disturbing part is watching the cop eat a takeaway sheep’s head. Jar City is a real place, the repository of the country’s DNA.