Amazing Article by Bill Mesce: Eight Counts of Grand Theft Cinema
We love crime movies. We may go on and on about Scorsese’s ability to incorporate Italian neo-realism techniques into Mean Streets (1973), the place of John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle (1950) in the canon of postwar noir, The Godfather (1972) as a socio-cultural commentary on the distortion of the ideals of the American dream blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda…but that ain’t it.
We love crime movies because we love watching a guy who doesn’t have to behave, who doesn’t have to – nor care to – put a choker on his id and can let his darkest, most visceral impulses run wild. Some smart-mouth gopher tells hood Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), “Go fuck yourself,” in Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990), and does Tommy roll with it? Does he spit back, “Fuck me? Nah, fuck you!” Does he go home and tell his mother?
He pulls a .45 cannon out from under his jacket and empties it into the kid. C’mon, be honest: some jackass cuts you off on the highway, somebody runs over your foot in the supermarket with their cart and doesn’t even say, “Sorry,” somebody steals your yogurt out of the office fridge, are you going to look me in the eye and say that somewhere way down in some deep, dark, highly societally-repressed part of you – the barbaric part buried under millennia of that increasingly complex and organizing thing we call civilization – wouldn’t want to pop the guy?
Heist flicks gain a special affection. When we’re talking about The Big Job, The Big Heist, The Big Caper, The Big Score, we’re not talking about hoods, strong-arms, goons, stick-up men, smash-and-grabbers, kick-in-the-door-and-yell-“Grab-some-sky” types; we’re talking about artists.
The thief – the good thief, the expert thief – actually looks to avoid violence. He’s relying on brains and skill rather than muscle and guns, and there’s something about that to respect, even for the law-abiding, comfortably repressed good citizen. You have to admire the imagination of the job, the timing, the expertise.
And of course, there’s the lure of the money, too. It’s the rare person sitting in the seats who isn’t tantalized by the money; a big bucket of it scored in one, fell swoop. A suitcase full of green opens up on the screen, a case full of gleaming bullion, a satchel upends and glittering diamonds spill out onto a tabletop like stars in a black velvet sky…don’t you – at least sometimes – turn to your movie mate, and share a grin that says, “Imagine.”
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