When I think back to the first time I truly fell in love with movies, it was while watching GOODFELLAS at twelve years old. It was my first encounter with Scorsese, DeNiro, Pesci and abundant violence. It was like a wake up call (I know at 12 years old that seems hyperbolic, but compared to THE LITTLE MERMAID, it was like witnessing the Sistine Chapel in person). After that I started researching DeNiro. I learned about his legendary filmography and created a “Must Watch” list. Then I moved on to Scorsese. Then it branched out into Oscar winners, foreign films, etc. GOODFELLAS was my catalyst, and from that point on I knew that I found something that I was truly passionate about. Even though it opened me up to movies in general, it also started an obsession with crime films that I still have today.
Throughout the 90’s there were various films in the crime genre that hold up as some of the best, most powerful films of their time. One that comes to mind is HEAT. Directed by Michael Mann, HEAT followed the lives of two men. One, a career criminal trying to get out of the business after one last big job (DeNiro) – the other, is the dedicated cop with family issues that is chasing him (Pacino). HEAT was an epic crime saga that not only pitted together the two most legendary actors of their generation, but it also featured incredibly complex characters and performances from its all-star cast. It also featured one of the most thrilling shootouts in modern film history. It’s a remarkable film and easily one of the most ambitious crime films of the last two decades.
Another great 90’s crime film is the Oscar-winning adaptation of James Ellroy’s classic novel L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. Curtis Hanson directed the film which traces the investigation of a coffee house massacre in early 1950’s Los Angeles that leads two detectives down a road of widespread political corruption. Hanson took a huge gamble with the roles of volatile detective Bud White and ambitious rookie Edmund Exley, and cast Australian actors Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce respectively. Obviously the gamble was a success, and the film won two Oscars (Kim Basinger – Best Supporting Actress, Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson – Best Adapted Screenplay). L.A. CONFIDENTIAL is a classic crime film and again, another all-star cast fits the bill just right. With biting dialogue and genuine thrills, it is a shining example of how crime films can change the landscape of compelling filmmaking.
Both of the films I’ve just discussed are certainly classics, but there is one film from the 90’s that reinvented the genre completely. It changed the typical narrative of the crime picture through the use of atmosphere and character, and defined the very essence of the end “twist”.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS is considered today to be the most original crime film since Alfred Hitchcock’s classic STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. Told from the perspective of Verbal Kint, an rambling con-man with cerebral palsey, THE USUAL SUSPECTS tells the story of a group of career criminals who are blackmailed into working together by a mysterious legend named Keyser Soze to pull off a seemingly impossible job. Director Bryan Singer blends the stories into one fascinating mystery that slowly reveals to the viewer that all of the men involved are not exactly who they say they are, and ultimately leads us to what is easily one of the most jaw-dropping endings in cinematic history (and if you say you had it figured out from the beginning, I call “shenanigans”). THE USUAL SUSPECTS won 2 Oscars. Kevin Spacey nabbed his first for his portrayal of Verbal Kint, and Christopher McQuarrie won Best Original Screenplay. It’s easy to see why. To me, this film is timeless. It’s engrossing. It’s amazing.
There are so many great crime films from the 90’s that I love. SEVEN, THE UNTOUCHABLES, THE GRIFTERS, FARGO, MILLER’S CROSSING, etc… The three films above made a lasting impact on me. I recommend you see them if you haven’t. I also recommend that today’s screenwriters take a cue from those films and make the next great American crime film. So, with that being said, what are your favorite crime films of the 90’s?