Let’s face it; we all get a vicarious thrill out of watching criminals at work. How else do you explain why Cops has been on the air for so many years? We love to watch the cat-and-mouse game between cops and crooks. From bank jobs to brutal murders, from criminal masterminds to the criminally stupid, here are fifteen examples of why true crime, at least in the movies, really does pay.
Gangsters and Gamblers
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel (Warren Beatty) in Bugsy. Siegel named his creation, the Flamingo, after his girlfriend, Virginia Hill (Annette Benning). Siegel gambled with the mob’s money and lost. Beatty gambled by taking the role and won Benning as his girlfriend.
Jeff Ma (Jim Sturgess as “Ben Campbell”) in 21. Ma was an MIT math genius who cleaned out casinos for millions as a card counter. Strugess is a pretty Britty doing a bad “Rain Man” impression in this whitewashed movie.
“Lefty” Ruggiero (Al Pacino) in Donnie Brasco. Lefty was a low-level mobster who helped out “Donnie Brasco” (Johnny Depp), not knowing he was an undercover FBI agent. This time, Pacino made the right choice in underplaying the part. No “HOO-AHH”s here.
Maniacs and Murderers
Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron) in Monster. Wuornos is credited with being the America’s first female serial killer. Theron is credited with “uglying up” for the role, winning an Oscar for her efforts and generally being one of the hottest women on the planet.
Mark “Chopper” Read (Eric Bana) in Chopper. Even in the toughest prison in Australia, a country that was founded as a prison, “Chopper” Read menaced and intimidated his fellow inmates. Bana would attempt to menace and intimidate movie-goers in Ang Lee’s awful Hulk.
Reggie Kray (Martin Kemp) and Ronnie Kray (Gary Kemp) in The Krays. In early 1960s England, the Kray brothers were rock-star killers before anybody heard of the Beatles. In early 1980s England, the Kemp brothers had a hit record, “True”, with their band Spandau Ballet, which nobody has heard from since.
Albert DeSalvo (Tony Curtis) in The Boston Strangler. Before Jason or Freddy or Leatherface, the Boston Strangler was a true psycho killer. Curtis gives two great performances as both family man and homicidal maniac.
Swindlers and Screw-ups
Frank W. Abagnale, Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Catch Me If You Can. Abagnale was the king of con men and forgers as he led the FBI on a chase for years. DiCaprio showed he was more than the “King of the World” on a sinking boat.
John “Sonny” Wortzik (Al Pacino) in Dog Day Afternoon. Pacino is back on the list as another loser. This time, he tries to rob a bank to pay for his gay lover’s sex change operation. Just to make things more confusing, John Cazale, the same actor who played Fredo in the Godfather movies, played his partner in the robbery. Attica! Attica!
Jesse James Hollywood (Emile Hirsch as “Johnny Truelove”) in Alpha Dog. Hollywood and his boys allegedly kidnapped and killed the younger brother of a rival drug dealer. He will soon face trial and could be put to death if convicted. Of course, it could always be worse; he could have gone on to star in the Wachowski brothers’ Speed Racer.
Terry Leather (Jason Statham) in The Bank Job. Leather is a small-time criminal who gets involved in a bank robbery gone wrong. Statham is a big-time star whose skill set includes driving fast (Transporter, Death Race), stealing cash (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, The Italian Job) and kicking ass (War, Crank).
Wanda Webb Holloway (Holly Hunter) in The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom. A suburban Houston mom hires a hit man to kill the mother of her daughter’s cheerleading rival. (Yes, this is true. No, I’m not kidding.) Not even Oscar winner Holly Hunter can make this crazy true story believable.
Next year, true crime movie fans can look forward to more illicit fun, including Johnny Depp as John Dillinger. So forget about Alcatraz, San Quentin or Sing Sing; the best place to see the criminal mind at work is at your local multiplex!
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