The Asphalt Jungle (1950): Crime doesn’t pay, a maxim that not every crime film truly understands. While the entire noir genre exists to show man’s descent into the dark side, few are as bone dry and weary about it as John Huston’s caper pic, in which a bevy of low-lifes are rounded up for a jewel heist that never has a chance of working. Headliner Sterling Hayden scored this gig again in Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing, but where Kubrick is detached and mechanical, Huston is slow and depressive, its doomed characters presented in a state of living death.
Touchez Pas Au Grisbi (1954): The French were quick to realize the value of noir, and they spat it back at Americans before we knew its importance ourselves. Before the French New Wave gave it their own twists, Jean-Pierre Melville and Jacques Becker were making imitation B-movies about old men: The former’s Bob Le Flambeur and the latter’s Grisbi find retirees trying to negotiate their way out of a life that prefers to keep you till the grave.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973): Much of American 1970s cinema was devoted to sucking the pomp out of various genres, and this whole list could run red with Hickey and Boggs, Charley Varrick, The Laughing Policeman, etc. The arguable best zeroes in on low-rent crime, painting its criminals—including aging, doomed gunrunner Robert Mitchum—as working class stiffs simply trying to get by, albeit in the wrong profession.
The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984): A ‘70s classic in ‘80s clothes, with hot shot Method kids Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts trying their hand at an old man’s game and losing a thumb.
The Ice Harvest (2005): Christmas-related larceny, backstabbing and murder in Nowhere, America. See also: Bad Santa.
Killing Them Softly (2012): The Friends of Eddie Coyle author George V. Higgins died in 1999, leaving a long line of under-read novels that wallow in the miserablism of lives lived above the law and below the poverty line. Here, crooks and killers chat, but they’re never Quentin Tarantino clever: just palookas running their mouths off before they’re forcibly silenced. This is only Higgins’ second film adaptation. There’s oil here. Someone drill.
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