Spoiler Warning

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

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Top Ten Gene Hackman Anti Heroes

Gene Hackman is without question one of the greatest living actors. He's been acting in film since the 1960's, playing many different characters in different genres. His most memorable roles to me are his seriously flawed, unconventional leading man roles. His characters often carry an element of unpredictable danger. Hackman hasn't relied on movie star looks, but when he's on screen, it's hard to look away, as he easily takes control of any scene he's in. He's one of few actors whose presence is enough reason to watch a film, as he makes the absolute most of any material he's given. While I often get irritated by predictable characters, Hackman has mastered playing the guy I can't quite figure out, but have to watch. I can't think of any other Hollywood characters quite as singular as Harry Moseby, Harry Caul or Popeye Doyle; roles that in theory shouldn't work, and only do because of Hackman's uncanny ability to inhabit them.  Hackman is a master at making the unlikeable characters compelling because they're so human. Of course it was hard to choose ten, and some were selected more based on the character than the film. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments and check out the Criminal Movies facebook page for more on these picks.

10. John Herod, The Quick and the Dead

In the old west, John Herod runs the town of Redemption, and every year he hosts a single elimination quick draw contest, the winner receiving a large cash prize. This year, two Stranger's come into town for the contest; The Kid (Leonardo DiCaprio,) who believes he's Herod's son, and Ellen (Sharon Stone) a mysterious woman who we learn was manipulated into killing her own father by Herod. Also involved is, Cort (Russell Crowe) an ex gunman for Herod, turned reverend who is only participating due to coercion. After a stream of colorful contestant's The Kid, Ellen, and Cort reach the final showdown with Herod. The Quick and the Dead may not be a great movie, but for Western fans, it's a fun, stylish, over the top tribute to the old showdowns. Hackman is the greatest part of the film, giving us a Herod who is brutal and ruthless, twisted in too many ways to measure. He's also not an easy man to beat.

This is my town! I run everything! If you live to see the dawn, it's because I allow it! I decide who lives and who dies!

9. Joe Moore, Heist

Joe Moore runs a crew that specializes in elaborate big money heists. On his latest job, his face is captured by a security camera, prompting him to plan on retirement with his wife Fran (Rebecca Pidgeon) using his cut of the money. His fence, Mickey Bergman (Danny DeVito) is not happy with this as he already has another job set up. He refuses to pay Joe unless he takes the new job, and Mickey insists that his nephew, Jimmy Silk (Sam Rockwell) be involved. The job involves stealing gold from a plane, and Mickey has made arrangements to double cross Joe, using his nephew. Jimmy also has designs on Fran. Jimmy knocks out Joe, and takes the van which should contain the gold and Fran, while Joe must try to avoid capture. They find that Joe had suspected betrayal, and the van doesn't contain the gold at all. Mickey and Jimmy then attempt to find Joe and where he's hidden the gold, not realizing that his skills are not as faded as they assumed. Heist is, as the title implies, a pretty straightforward heist film, although being a Mamet film, it's full of clever twists and turns and double crosses (and great dialogue.) Hackman's character here, though a professional criminal, is one of his more sympathetic. He's not interested in hurting anyone, he just wants the money he's owed and to retire. That doesn't make him any less competent, however, when Mickey forces his hand.
He ain't gonna shoot me? Then he hadn't ought to point a gun at me. It's insincere.

8. Royal Tenenbaum, The Royal Tenenbaums

Royal Tenenbaum is the head of the Tenenbaum family, which started out well, with three child prodigies. Royal, however, splits with his wife Etheline (Angelica Huston) leaving the house and kids to live in a hotel for over twenty years. Hearing news that Etheline may remarry, (and eviction from the hotel) he resolves to rejoin the family. He lies to Etheline, claiming he has stomach cancer. Royal hires a fake doctor and has medical equipment delivered to the house. Once there, he becomes reacquainted with his children, who have all moved from their early successes into different neuroses. Although the reunion is difficult, they begin to come to terms with each other. Among other questionable behavior, Royal introduces his grandchildren to shoplifting and dogfighting. His stomach cancer fraud is exposed but he's already worked his way back into the family. He eventually agrees to grant Etheline a divorce so she can try to be happy. His presence and interference in their lives helps bring the family together and they confront their issues and end up in a better place than they were before. Hackman's performance here is tremendous. Royal is eccentric, selfish, crass, demanding and insensitive, but strangely likable. He thinks nothing of elaborate deception and can be very cruel, but does come to realize that he cares for his family. They all manage to make a working unit out of their seeming incompatibility with Royal's return, the focus to bring them together.

I've always been considered an asshole for about as long as I can remember. That's just my style. But I'd really feel blue if I didn't think you were going to forgive me.

7. Capt. Frank Ramsey, Crimson Tide

Capt. Frank Ramsey is the commander of the Alabama, a US nuclear submarine ordered to be ready to launch a preemptive strike on a post Soviet Russian ultra nationalist group in the event that they fuel their missiles to prepare for a strike against the US. The Alabama receives a communication to launch its missiles, but a conflict with a an enemy sub damages their radio so they are unable to read a second communication. Ramsey insists that they must carry out their launch, but the launch protocols require his second in command, Lt. Commander Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington) to confirm the command. Hunter refuses believing the second communication could have been a retraction. This leads Ramsey to attempt to relieve Hunter of duty in order to replace him with a more compliant second. Hunter, however, leads a mutiny and orders Ramsey arrested. The crew splits into two groups, and Hunter and Ramsey exchange command several times while the radio is being repaired. When the second communication is finally decoded it is a retraction. Ramsey and Hunter are brought before a tribunal but are not punished as neither man was "wrong" except for the attention the incident brought to launch protocols. Hackman is again perfect for the role of a man in a tough situation where morality and the right call are nearly impossible to tell.

All I ask is that you keep up with me. If you can't, then that strange sensation you'll be feeling in the seat of your pants will be my boot in your ass

6. Dr. Lawrence Myrick, Extreme Measures

Promising young doctor, Guy Luthan (Hugh Grant) starts work at a New York hospital and is intrigued when a patient, a homeless man, dies of a mysterious combination of symptoms while in his charge. Looking into the death, he finds the patient has completely disappeared, physically, and from the hospital records. He is urged by everyone to drop his investigation but of course keeps going anyway. Luthan soon finds himself arrested for cocaine planted in his home and loses his job. He continues investigating and finds that Dr. Lawrence Myrick, the celebrated surgeon, has been experimenting on homeless people in order to find a cure for paralysis. Myrick attempts to convince Luthan that he's acting to save many lives which in his estimation, justify the lives he's taken. Luthan disagrees and in the course of their conflict Myrick is accidentally shot and Luthan ends up with his research which will certainly give him more opportunity to ponder Myrick's their disagreement. Hackman's performance makes Myrick on some level, a sympathetic character. He certainly acts for the greater good, but the cost is more than most could easily accept.
What if there was hope? What would it be worth to be able to walk again? To be able to feed yourself? To go back to your old life? To be a doctor? What would you endure?

5. Lex Luthor, Superman

Lex Luthor is certainly one of the most well known villians around, and Hackman was a great pick for the character. Luthor is the world's greatest criminal genius and conventional authorities seem powerless against him. Luthor plans to hijack a US military nuclear warhead test to hit the San Andreas fault, which would provide him with some easy real estate profits. Luthor's scheme is interrupted by the world's discovery of "Superman" (Christopher Reeves) a seemingly indestructible and unimaginably powerful hero. Luthor sees Superman's arrival as an exciting challenge and rather than be intimidated, he actually seeks him out. Using his intellect, he has already come up with a plan to defeat Superman, having located his only weakness "Kryptonite" He gleefully tells Superman about his plans, stating that two missiles have already been fired, before exposing him to the Kryptonite and leaving him to die. Luthor doesn't realize however that his girlfriend. Eve Tessmacher (Valerie Perrine) has family in one of the targeted areas. Realizing Superman is her only chance, she frees him. Even Superman is not fast enough to prevent both missiles from landing and one of them hits the San Andreas fault, killing Lois Lane (Margot Kidder.) Unable to accept this, he flies around the Earth fast enough to make it spin backwards turning back time to give himself another chance. Superman then apprehends Luthor and brings him to prison. Hackman's Luthor is a memorable one and a believable match for Superman, succeeding in very little time in defeating him, and only being thwarted by his bad choice in associates and Superman's unimaginable feat of turning back the clock.

It all fits somehow, his coming here to Metropolis. And at this particular time. There's a kind of cruel justice about it. I mean, to commit the crime of the century, a man naturally wants to face the challenge of the century

4. Little Bill, Unforgiven
(full review)

Little Bill is the Sheriff in the old west town of Big Whiskey. While on the side of law and order, he despises assassins. When a whore working in Big Whiskey is disfigured by a customer, her fellow whores find Little Bill's efforts to right things inadequate. They post a reward for the men involved in the incident and soon gunmen start arriving in Big Whiskey to collect. Little Bill is angry and watches the activity making brutal examples of every gunman he encounters, savagely beating the renowned, "English Bob." and kicking him out of town.  Retired assassin and widower, William Munny (Clint Eastwood) and his ex partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) are found by the naive "Schofield Kid" who convinces them to seek the reward. After dispatching the men who cut up the whore, Munny and Logan are faced with one of Little Bill's brutal object lessons. Little Bill discovers however that the law doesn't make him invincible. When it comes to who lives and dies, "deserve's got nothing to do with it."

I guess you think I'm kicking you, Bob. But it ain't so. What I'm doing is talking, you hear? I'm talking to all those villains down there in Kansas. I'm talking to all those villains in Missouri. And all those villains down there in Cheyenne. And what I'm saying is there ain't no whore's gold. And if there was, how they wouldn't want to come looking for it anyhow.

3. Harry Moseby, Night Moves

Harry Moseby is a P.I. that was once a pro football star. His marriage is in bad shape, and discovering his wife is cheating on him, he earns her enmity by treating the situation like a case, rather than a deeply personal matter. Harry is hired to locate ex actress Arlene Iverson's missing daughter, Delly (Melanie Griffith) which gets him into the middle of a complicated smuggling operation with many characters involved. Although his P.I. skills are sharp enough to get him to the right place (or wrong place) and to the right people, he is unable to get a handle on the many motivations at work behind their actions, giving us a character hopelessly out of his element and in over his head.

Listen Delly, I know it doesn't make much sense when you're sixteen. Don't worry. When you get to be forty, it isn't any better.

2. Popeye Doyle, The French Connection
(full review)

Popeye Doyle is a ruthless cop, known for his high arrest rate and his "hunches" He and his partner, "Cloudy" Russo (Roy Sheider) are very efficient at police work, although certainly unconventional. Popeye finds some information on a huge heroin shipment coming in from France, with French businessman, Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) Despite many obstacles including the skepticism of his own chief, a grudge from a federal agent assigned to work with him, and the intelligence of Charnier, Popeye pursues his case aggressively, giving us one of the best chase scenes in film history. Popeye Doyle is  more of a hunter than a cop, and refuses to be stopped by anything once the pursuit begins, whether it's endangering the public or shooting an innocent man.
The son of a bitch is here. I saw him. I'm gonna get him.

1. Harry Caul, The Conversation
(full review)

Harry Caul is a surveillance expert admired by everyone in his field. His chosen line of work, however, only feeds his paranoia about his own private life. While Harry often hands over the most sensitive information to people with possibly dark motives, he thinks of himself as someone doing his job. As a professional, he acknowledges no responsibility for what is done with the information he collects. In this film however, he forgets his own code of conduct when a snippet of conversation between an adulterous young couple proves troubling for him. "He'd kill us if he got the chance" is the inciting line for him, and fearing for the couple's safety, he gets himself involved in a very messy situation which turns out to be nothing at all like what he assumed from the overheard line. In his attempt to avoid guilt, Harry loses sight of context and inflection. This opens the door for his growing paranoia to be given good reason to exist.

I'm not afraid of death, but I am afraid of murder.


Dave said...

Love this guy. You've tapped into some of his best work. I hate that he's not acting anymore, but he's got such a rich history of work we can savor for years to come.

INDBrent said...

Thanks Dave. It is a shame he's retired, but what a long career for someone once voted "least likely to succeed.

Ian StJohn said...

Hackman had terrific range the true measure of an actor. Many have played cops, tough guys and spooks but would trip over themselves if required to play a goofball as Hackman did in Get Shorty. Deniro and Farina are equally capable; Farina also put bad guys away for real.

INDBrent said...

very true! even his goofballs came across pretty seriously. He just has an amazing presence. Good comparisons, DeNiro definitely. I wouldn't have thought about Farina, but he I'd agree now that you mention it. All three are essentially master character actors that are too talented to keep small. Didn't realize Farina had real life experience with that. Thanks for stopping in. Appreciate the comment!

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Unknown said...

I absolutely love Hackman. His anti-heroes are legendary. You've included a lot of my favorites, but I especially loved Agent Rupert Anderson in Mississippi Burning. The way he went through those clansmen like a bull. "These people crawled out of the sewer, Mr. Ward, maybe the gutter is where we outta be."

INDBrent said...

Thanks, Melissa! he is a legend. That is truly another great part but didn't think of him there as an anti-hero. I suppose a case could be made though. He had some awesome energy there!

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