On a wooden table, in the Italian Quarter of New York City, two criminals, the gangster, sat down to write a blackmail letter addressed to an Italian butcher, in the next scene, the letter reaches the man in question. His face pales with fear, and later fails to arrange the desired amount, and the gang carries out its threat.
Crime Cinema. A thousand faces of truth
This tale, which dates back to The Black Hand (1906) and is based on a true story, is perhaps the first era of gangster cinema, a genre of crime cinema, defined by the Oxford Dictionary as films that revolve around crime and its consequences, and emerge from and represent a social context, giving it meaning through its embodiment of felonies, law, justice and punishment, and its places include courtrooms, police stations or prisons, and embody gang organizations, robberies and the course of investigations (1) (2) (3).
Crime cinema has portrayed itself to reality from the silent era until now, to flourish during the progressive movement in the United States, which was punctuated by social conditions that led to chaos, organized crime and declining trust in government, giving way to what critics consider the first true crime film, The Great Train Robbery. Unlike the Black Hand gang, which first used a threatening tone, the gangs in ‘The Great Train Theft’ directly stormed the train, shocking its passengers, while it seemed exciting for cinema audiences to watch a moving train on the screen and for a moment seemed to be about to collide with them.
The rise of this cinema coincided with the prohibition law approved by America in the twenties, and implicitly meant the prohibition of alcohol, which came with the opposite product, not restraining the masses as much as pushing more to rebel against the law, to produce in the thirties films derived from the reality of society, which gave a special charm to gangster films that portrayed heroes aspiring to modify their status in illegal ways, as well as drawing the characters of brilliant investigators such as ‘Sherlock Holmes’, then the forties came with the peak of Nuer films (dark cinema) up to Films of the nineties that were fed with side ideas such as black comedy and others (4) (5).
Crime cinema and its variations are never considered an ideal world, nor do they make an effort to embellish a bleak reality or deny a tinge of its absurdity, as films sometimes end in a violent and unfair way, without moving far from the complexities and consequences of life. So in Meydan, we decided to nominate selected works that are considered the best crime films of the 21st century, according to many critics.
City of the Lord
Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles embarks on City of God, compared to Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas.6 with a panicked look of a chicken with eyes hanging on a knife and fleeing from a gang, ending up at the feet of the narrator Rocatat (Alexandre Rodríguez), summarizing a non-linear narrative sequence of violence that takes over a slum built by the Brazilian government to isolate the executed and poor from its largest city, Rio de Janeiro. A criminal hotbed governed only by the law of the strongest, where people turn only to God.
Mirelles edited the rapid editing and movement of the mobile camera almost throughout the film, to convey the sense that the lives of the inhabitants of the area are akin to a constant gasp that does not subside except with dialogues that show their insides and their desire to escape, or with the narrator holding the camera tightly and his passion for photography. In this context, the camera carries a human metaphor about the space that Rokat maintained between him and his surroundings, on his preference to stand as a witness to what is happening about engaging in it, this did not guarantee for Rokat for a time except successive disappointments, and careful attempts to rebel, to embezzle a kiss or laugh, but the camera and what it represents to him from a dream prevented him from going further.
Nominated for four Academy Awards in the categories of photography, editing, writing and directing, the film tells a true story inspired by a novel by Paulo Linz who grew up in this city and fled from it, writing in eight years a novel about it in which he narrated the biography of photojournalist Wilson Rodriguez.
Mirelles really brought the inhabitants of the city of God to shoot his film, embodying a fierce picture of the war between the gangs and between them and the policemen, some take the film as a call for change, but it came open and does not neglect to show the city with its curves and moral corridors as it is.
Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, a remake of Andrew Lau’s Infernal Affairs, one of Hong Kong’s most successful works, is infused with deep themes of identity, belonging, loyalty, betrayal and power. One of the most anticipated works of 2006, the film was well received by audiences and critics alike, and won four Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay and Editing. From its inception, the film conveyed a strong sense of community by focusing on South Boston visually and narratively, developing a separation and contrast between the worlds of Frank Costello’s gang and its leader (Jack Nicholson) and the police department (7) (8).
The influential critic Roger Ebert saw it as a plot around two men who are thrown into a life of duality to which they do not belong, each wearing a mask in which they hide their truth, and contradict their reality (9) (10) (11). Scorsese expresses these internal and external conflicts between the largest drug cartel and the police, by including mouse-like symbols in a projection on betrayal, which we glimpse taking place in the first shots of the film and in the final scene on the window behind the detective, and the blood-soaked and red ocean signifying violence and imminent danger.
No country for the elderly
Under the scorching Texas sun, amid drought and an empty desert except for a few vehicles and people frowning from the heat, the Coen brothers’ four-time Oscar winner No Country for Old Men, based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same title, was a sign of the change in the world and the prevalence of turmoil creeping toward that patch of town (12) (13) (14).
The brothers give a glimpse of their course of action with the story of one of the protagonists, an sheriff named Bill (Tommy Lee Jones), in the first moments of the film about the execution of a 14-year-old teenager, who admitted upon his arrest that once they released him, he would not stop killing for the pleasure he gave him. That premise that precedes the appearance of the criminal Anton Shegur (Javier Bardem) is what leads us to the later events to try to explain.
The film revolves, even if it appears to be about the fisherman Leolyn Moss (Josh Brolin), who accidentally drives him to a truck full of drugs and money, next to which men fall in their blood, so does Moss steal that wealth? What would be the consequences of that decision if it were taken?
We follow three characters, the policeman Bill, the sadistic killer Shigur, and the hunter, in a chase that tells us what drives these characters and their motives, especially the character of Shigur, where the act of murder is due to a coin, as if trying to give his actions a meaning or evade them by returning them to an inanimate object to decide the fate of his victims, while his emotions take us back to the story of the 14-year-old boy, to realize that the justification for the murder may be the same.
David Fischer made his film Zodiac in 2007 about the true story of a serial killer who got away with his crimes for years during the sixties, and the helplessness and confusion of everyone at the time in front of those enigmatic codes that the killer sent over the years in written messages (15) (16), and received extensive media coverage.
Fitcher opens his work directly with the murder of a girl and her boyfriend inside her car, and the police station receives a call from the killer hours after the incident to credit him and acknowledge his crime, but Fincher does not take his film in a bloody direction, but rather makes it closer to a relentless quest to understand all this absurdity.
Thus, the path of cartoonist Robert Grismth (Jake Gyllenhaal) and detective Dee Toshi (Mark Ruffalo) intersects, and the film is divided to find in the first half revolving around the ongoing investigations and the aggregation of facts with a non-linear narrative, as if to convey the characters’ confusion and confusion and seemingly blocked roads, building tension using the movement of the camera, and little by little with the progress of the film the hope of finding a satisfactory answer diminishes, and the truth becomes a personal obsession for one individual (17) (18).
In a film directed by David Villeneuve and written by Aaron and Zewski, Prisoners, the obsession takes on an emotional color, when two young girls are kidnapped, one of whom is the daughter of Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), who is desperately seeking to find on the one hand, while detective Loki (Jacques Gyllenhaal) works on the other, sliding into various turns (19) (20).
Villeneuve creates an introduction to his film with a pinned shot of a forest where a deer moves, before being shot and unbandaged without being bandaged by anyone, only to see that his hunter is Dover’s son standing next to his father. At a glance, we find that what a gazelle suddenly suffered is a prelude to what will disturb the peace of its heroes.
Dufou seems to be a tough tough man, careful who stores in his garage everything that he may encounter imminent danger with infinite precision, and his son happens from the first minutes to remain always prepared, to realize as we go through the film that the control that Dufou thinks he has over his world is nothing but an illusion, all that certainty that he can withstand and protect his family even if the end of the planet comes, gradually falls apart whenever he realizes his inability to save his child, just like a stray deer that may not He has his survival.
The uncertainty extends to Nicholas Raven’s Drive and Iranian writer Hossein Amini’s screenplay, based on James Salles’ novel of the same name, where a mystery character opens up to speculation: Vitogo Swartland, a ‘marginal’ man who works as a mechanic, dopplera and racing car driver in dangerous movie scenes, and lives a secret life at night satisfying his heroic fantasies. (21) (22).
The love story with Irene seems to be the missing piece that completes our friend’s imaginary world, with which he can achieve what he could not have been before, boldly advancing and finally starring for a woman with wide eyes, an angelic face and her child of a few years old (23). The driver at the beginning firmly avoids all forms of emotional and psychological involvement, sticks to driving because it meets his tendency of emancipation, so that the appearance of Irene represents a radical turn for him, he retracts his decisiveness, and even violates his rule by getting out of his car, departing from his personality dress and betraying his base, continuing to do so until the end.
The casts reflect the dim street lights and richness of the compositions with a romantic gesture, but they are the opposite in scenes of violence, giving a poetic flavor to the work. The film was screened at international film festivals such as Cannes 2011 and was applauded by audiences, with critics praising it with old Nuer films.
In the midst of all that darkness, the Dark Knight looms like a fantasy that terrifies criminals, appearing as the Savior of Gotham’s city exhausted by corruption and outlaws and where crime is rampant, a light that illuminates the cloudy sky, to manifest itself as a faithful Christ, and as a man wrapped in solitude to the point of saying: ‘You can see me hiding in the dark, but I, the shadows.’
This work, ‘The Batman’, produced by ‘Warner Bros.’ in 2022, directed by Matt Reeves and starring actor Robert Pattinson, was destined to meet a few stumbles, such as those that Pattinson faced early from an attack and challenged his ability to perform the role for which he was nominated, to confirm in one of the meetings his readiness for him and the extent of his passion for the Batman comic book series from a young age, rejecting as he appeared the image of his fans in the series ‘Twilight’ with which they surrounded him as a handsome young man suitable only for romantic movies.
After being postponed twice and released last year, the film grossed $750 million that exceeded its $200 million budget, making it the highest-grossing film of 2022, winning wide admiration on all levels from music and striking cinematography by Greg Fraser and directing to the sequence of action and tale and its realism that surpassed previous Batman films.
In the sequences of beginnings, we glimpse a murder, a cursory manifestation of the color red, which here is not only a dangerous harbinger of spilled blood, but a burst of hope related to the inhabitants of Gotham, eager for an absent justice that their prospective knight may achieve, squandering all this blackness.
What distinguishes Batman’s latest version from its predecessors and makes it one of the best crime films is his ability to create a balance between the hero’s raging visible and hidden conflicts, between his present and his past, in a realistic drama that is strongly present through cinematic elements such as music, rain pouring on pale light, ghostly visions that convey to us various feelings, along with a tinge of romance rarely found in superhero films.
- History of Crime Films timeline | Timetoast timelines
- A brief history of movie crime – Crime Films – (filmreference.com)
- Evolution of Crime Films – Sociology Lens Insights
- Crime Films | Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology
- The Problem of the Crime Film – Crime Films – Jukola Art Community (jukolart.us)
- City of God movie review & film summary (2003) | Roger Ebert
- The Departed | The Departed | The Guardian
- The Departed movie review & film summary (2007) | Roger Ebert
- How Does Martin Scorsese Layers Symbolism and Color in ‘The Departed’? (nofilmschool.com)
- The Departed: The Art of Making a B-Movie | ACMI: Your museum of screen culture
- Martin Scorsese Style Of Filmmaking: Learn From The Master • Filmmaking Lifestyle (filmlifestyle.com)
- No Country for Old Men review – dark, violent, apocalyptic and triumphant | Film | The Guardian
- No Country for Old Men – Movie – Review – The New York Times (nytimes.com)
- No Country for Old Men movie review (2007) | Roger Ebert
- Zodiac – Movies – Review – The New York Times (nytimes.com)
- Zodiac holds up better than ever 10 years later | movie review | Smash Cut (smashcutreviews.com)
- Zodiac | Film | The Guardian
- Zodiac movie review & film summary (2007) | Roger Ebert
- Prisoners movie review & film summary (2013) | Roger Ebert
- Prisoners – review | Thrillers | The Guardian
- The movie ‘Drive’  as a metaphor for our psychological drives | by Phetogo Swartland | Medium
- Cinematography of Drive: Light, Shadow And Composition | Raindance
- Newton Thomas Sigel — Drive Cinematography Breakdown (studiobinder.com)