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Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Top Ten Anti Heroes


It always amazes me how many of our memorable modern lead characters are anti heroes, which is a main reason I started writing a blog about them. (That and the fact that I tend to enjoy such movies more than others) It seems to me that the hero has been all but replaced by his darker more complicated relation. We live much safer daily lives than we ever have, but as we get safer, our heroes get darker. 

Certainly we're more secure now than ever and any threats to our security are handled by government agencies, which isn't an altogether bad thing perhaps. But why do we still have such an attraction to these characters seeking justice on the outskirts of the law, or challenging the system for their own reasons? Is it a fear of losing our individuality, the thrill of excitement or something else entirely? Has Jesse James evolved into Tyler Durden? And if he has, why do we need him?

With that thought in mind and having run into many top ten lists recently, I decided to try my own. Keep in mind, it may be completely different tomorrow as there are so many great characters are out there. (Right off the top of my head, Travis Bickle, Snake Plissken, D-FENS) For the purposes of this list, the anti hero may certainly be a criminal, but doesn't include any outright villians (which is sometimes a matter of opinion) Even so, for every character included, there were probably three more I considered. Feel free to let me know your thoughts on my picks and tell me your own favorites. You're also welcome to discuss it on the new Facebook fan page which you'll see on the right.




10) William Munny (Clint Eastwood, The Unforgiven)


(Full review here)

William Munny has hung up his guns and successfully retired. The assassin in him never went away however, and the honest life leaves him struggling. When he hears a proposition to kill again for a "good cause" he has a hard time passing it up. He's "lucky when it comes to killin" but that's not really a blessing, and some things in life come harder. This is not a new character for Eastwood, as Munny could be a character from any of his earlier films, but this is him a little further down the road.










9) Jimmy Ringo (Gregory Peck, The Gunfighter)

Jimmy Ringo is tired. After a hard life of being the fastest gun alive he wonders if he could change his ways and find a little peace. Maybe, he thinks, he can be a husband and father and forget about his guns. However, a reputation that long and hard earned can't just be forgotten. Ringo's final scene looks like a man finally going to sleep after a long long day. And he proves that even if you shoot him in the back, he'll get his revenge. Sometimes being the best isn't what you think it is.









8)Walker (Lee Marvin, Point Blank)
(12 Reasons Why Lee Marvin Kicks Ass In Point Blank)

An unstoppable force of nature, so efficient you have to wonder if he's supernatural. You never wonder if Walker will get his revenge, even if he has to swim home while bleeding  from Alcatraz.  Betrayed by his wife and best friend, shot and left for dead, it might be enough to make some people give up, but it just makes Walker angry.









7) Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles, Touch of Evil)
(Full Review Here)

Although Charlton Heston is a bit hard to take seriously in his role. Welles' Hank Quinlan is the real star of the story. Sure he takes liberties getting criminals convicted, trusting his hunches enough to plant evidence if need be. Yeah he's pretty corrupt, and his methods force you to cringe, but what if he's always right? As we delve into his character, the corrupt cop character reveals more layers. And when he dies you may not like him but you can certainly agree that he was "some kind of man."









6) Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart, The Big Sleep)

The quintessential wiseassed, hard-boiled private detective. He can't seem to stay out of trouble, but neither does it seem to worry him. Even if no one can figure out what exactly happened, he always looks like he's got it under control (unless Lauren Bacall is involved) All the women love him, and all the men worry about him. Bogart was the master of this character and we haven't seen anyone quite like him sense.











5) Jesse James (Brad Pitt, The Assassination of Jesse James by that Coward Robert Ford)


(Full Review Here)

Jesse James isn't the star of the show, but he's big enough to be. He's present even when you don't see him, which is fitting because James himself has left a similiar mark on our culture. One of the most celebrated anti heroes that ever lived, his character has been used in many films. He remains an anti hero who is larger than life and undoubtedly enduring.











4) Leon (Jean Reno, The Professional)


(Full Review Here)

As the title suggests, Leon is a true professional. He's not flashy and doesn't care about the wisecracks. He does his job and you'll never see him coming or going (unless you're about to die.) He's content with a self contained existence and reluctant to interfere in other's affairs, until a little girl's troubles force him to get involved with humanity again. And of course, once he's involved, he doesn't settle for half measures. Reno gives a tremendously powerful and compassionate performance which will leave Leon in your head for years.









3) The Lieutenant (Harvey Keitel, Bad Lieutenant)


(Full Review Here)

A cop who lost his way a long time ago and has no idea how to get back. He tries every vice imaginable and of course only gets more lost daily. He knows he's broken but can't fix it. Knowing he's worse than the worst criminal he arrests, he's constantly tortured and actively self destructive. It would take something pretty drastic to get through his constant agony and find anything good in him, and you have to wonder what could be enough?











2) Cool Hand Luke. (Paul Newman, Cool Hand Luke)


(Full Review Here)

Luke embodies the spirit of the anti hero to me. Although he isn't the toughest guy around or the smartest, he is the most stubborn. He can't abide his spirit being crushed for no good reason and has to resist even if it kills him. He doesn't need a reason to resist, he'd love you to give him a reason not to, though force doesn't qualify. Luke's rebellion is just saying no.









1) Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt, Fight Club)


(Full Review Here)

What if you woke up and realized that what's been sold to you your whole life isn't really working, but you're so locked into your life that you can't even admit it? What if the life which you thought kept you safe really kept you from being alive? If you lived in the world of Fight Club, you might develop a Tyler Durden to force you to face this.  A unique role and movie that continues to grow in relevance.






14 comments:

Eve Politanoff said...

good post !

Brent said...

Why thank you Eve!

woody said...

hmmmm.. William Munny number 10? I think I would switch 1 and ten. But I know how you love Brad!

"I'll kill all you sonsabitches!"

Brent said...

Somehow I don't see the Unforgiven as more relevant than Fight Club. It may be as good a movie and Munny's a great character to watch, but not as important to me.

Dave @ Cinema Liberated said...

Tyler Durden is more than a single serving friend!

Anonymous said...

You write: We live much safer daily lives than we ever have, but as we get safer, our heroes get darker. Certainly we're more secure now than ever and any threats to our security are handled by government agencies, which isn't an altogether bad thing perhaps. But why do we still have such an attraction to these characters seeking justice on the outskirts of the law, or challenging the system for their own reasons? Is it a fear of losing our individuality, the thrill of excitement or something else entirely?"
I am curious as to how you reached the above conclusions. Please cite some sources for this sociological and criminological perceptions. I put your premise into serious question.
Gary Klinga,

Brent said...

Hi Gary,

I'm honored that you gave this a close enough reading to challenge my perceptions, but i will point out to you that this entry is based entirely on my perceptions. Ultimately this is a movie blog and not a paper I'm submitting for publication to a University. I'd be happy to tell you how I come to these perceptions, but don't feel the need to cite sources for what I see around me.


1) Our military is currently occupied with preemptive action. This would strike me as more secure than past conflicts such as The World Wars or even the constant stand off of the cold war. The necessity of these wars is constantly debated by the general public. THis doesn't mean there is no danger from anywhere but does mean that in regard to the general public, our conflicts are more a subject of debate than clear necessity.
2) Our most popular news items are centered on celebrities and reality television stars. The very existence of reality television suggests to me that we have reached the ultimate boredom. The top news stories are celebrity focused rather than "news" focused. Outside of that, one of the biggest stories recently was Healthcare reform. The fact that we could focus so much energy on the issue of healthcare, (as opposed to "the coming crimewave" that inspired so much crime cinema)certainly tells me that we are feeling fairly secure.
3.) Our current major safety threat is that of terrorism which is handled as I mentioned, by Goverment agencies. We have our handy color alert system to tell us how safe we are from terror on any given day.
4.) The far more widespread use of modern technology (computers, cell phones, etc) suggests increased leisure time and means.
5.)THe average life expectancy has continued to increase historically.
6.) THe US Crime rate has been in steady decline since the 90's
7)We have more government agencies than ever, such as the Secret Service, FBI, DEA, ATF, CIA,etc, the Dept of Homeland Security, as well as ever modernizing police deapartments. This is a marked change from the pre FBI days, don't you think?
7) Could there be concerns that threaten everyone's safety, such as environmental, economic, or even nuclear (Korea for example) threats? Sure. However our general sense of safety and well being is much better than ever.
That being said. Feel free to disagree all you like. If you don't believe the American public feels safer than it did in the days of Jesse James, or in the era that spawned Death Wish and Dirty Harry, that's your right. As this is my own opinion. I, of course would feel it's pretty obvious. I don't pruport to write news, just an entertainment movie blog, so my opinion is the only source I need (which isn't to say that my opinion doesn't have sources)You can certainly have your own.

Or is your point of disagreement that our heroes have gotten darker? Is there another specific element that you disagree with that i've missed?

Either way, thanks for reading and I genuinely appreciate the interest you've shown!

Peyton Farquhar said...

I'll chime in here with my $0.25 adjusted for inflation - as to degree of safety, I tend to agree with Brent's general assessments since as he rightfully points out, his opinions are a product of **his** own perceptions. OTOH, if this was a political blog, I would disagree.

As to the appeal of the anti-hero, I can't speak for anyone else so will offer my own side. I tend to cheer for the Travis Bickels of the world simply because of their general demeanor.

The anti-hero doesn't worry about being politically correct and/or whose feelings may become bruised. He just does what he believes he has to do, and, strictly by the book doesn't always solve the problem.

Life is not an all black or all white proposition and so the emergence of grey hats ("dark" heroes) has almost **had to** happen. The anti-hero may not win a popularity contest, but in the end, it is the **quality** of the objective that matters, **not** the quantity. If you want quantity, then cheer for those who run for elected office. And once you figure out it's all lies and obfuscation anyway, you will return to the anti-hero and wonder why you ever questioned him in the first place.

Peyton Farquhar said...

I'll chime in here with my $0.25 adjusted for inflation - as to degree of safety, I tend to agree with Brent's general assessments since as he rightfully points out, his opinions are a product of **his** own perceptions. OTOH, if this was a political blog, I would disagree.

As to the appeal of the anti-hero, I can't speak for anyone else so will offer my own side. I tend to cheer for the Travis Bickels of the world simply because of their general demeanor.

The anti-hero doesn't worry about being politically correct and/or whose feelings may become bruised. He just does what he believes he has to do, and, strictly by the book doesn't always solve the problem.

Life is not an all black or all white proposition and so the emergence of grey hats ("dark" heroes) has almost **had to** happen. The anti-hero may not win a popularity contest, but in the end, it is the **quality** of the objective that matters, **not** the quantity. If you want quantity, then cheer for those who run for elected office. And once you figure out it's all lies and obfuscation anyway, you will return to the anti-hero and wonder why you ever questioned him in the first place.

Brent said...

Thanks for that Peyton! Yes there are certainly degrees and depending on the forum, "rightness" can vary. Great points though! I love your closing
"And once you figure out it's all lies and obfuscation anyway, you will return to the anti-hero and wonder why you ever questioned him in the first place."
That's wonderfully put!

Widow_Lady302 said...

This is my opinion on Mr. Klinga's comment, and Brent's ideas.

Safety is relative to the person's perception. If I live south side Detroit, maybe I feels safer than the old west, and maybe I don't. My personal perception of that it is much akin to living in the wild west, at least if you watch the news. Some people see our modern government as being our safety, police, firefighters, ect...that may or may not be either given that while we have bigger government than ever, but a lot people see that government as the enemy.

My personal opinion is that the classic hero stories that used to be told, were told to a naive people, with a purer idea of what right and wrong was. Today's audience, and this phenom has been growing for a long time are cynical and jaded, the concepts of right and wrong aren't as clear cut. The pure hero looks like a yutz, a patsy for the "man" to many people. While the darker hero types seem more true to life,more self-centered rather than serving some mythical greater good that no one can agree exists. Maybe they do, but they answer to no one.

I think for men especially that is appealing, because they dream of needing no one or if they do need someone it is on their terms alone. It is the male version of romance.

My .02 cents because I'm much cheaper than Peyton.

Anonymous said...

Nice and thanks!

Bucko said...

Coming in way late on this one, but I like the conversation, the searching for why modern humans are drawn to villains and complex anti-heroes. No easy answer but even the old myths had a mix of good and bad--the tragic flaw that brought down Greek heroes--and while children need a good guy to get the bad guy to feel safe, we adults know the good/bad guys are us.

On a different note, a lot of these antiheroes listed were forced into crossing some moral line that either society or they had created, through the death of a loved one, perhaps. Paul Newman's Hud is an example of an antihero who's moral boundaries are practically nonexistent. What saves him in the viewers' minds is that his amoral streak has a foundation in the shifting of the Old West and its values to the modern west--a sacrifice to progress. Who hasn't been impatient with parents or neighbors or political parties clinging to what used to be? And it helps that Hud is, well, Paul Newman.

Brent said...

Thanks Bucko! Glad you could stop in. I definitely agree that the anti hero is often a symbol of changing times, the person stepping out of the establisehed confort zone. He may not be entirely commendable but his actions are his own, not those of the last generation. And, yes, being Paul Newman sure doesn't hurt the case any.