The most optimistic way to think of crime is that it exposes the most dangerous cracks in the fabric of society. To survive as a species, humans must live together; criminals, be they organized or working alone, show us the specific, local, and structural areas where that compact is failing. How easy it is to forget that even the most heinous criminal is still human. How difficult it is to reckon with the fact that their capacity for such starkly antisocial behavior is, too, inherent in all of us. Good crime cinema shows us just how thin the line is between the criminal and the model citizen. These are the 13 best crime films currently on Netflix (US).
The crowning achievement of American filmmaking powerhouse Francis Ford Coppola is undoubtedly his Godfather trilogy, which tells the story of mob boss Michael Corleone’s ascent (or descent, depending on which way you look at it). In 1972, Coppola took author Mario Puzo’s 1969 Mafia novel and made of it a dynasty. The entire Godfather trilogy is currently on Netflix, so the next time you have nine hours, treat yourself to some worthwhile bingeing.
It was Coppola’s Godfather gamble on a then-unknown Pacino that made of the upstart Italian actor a leading man, but it was Brian De Palma’s rags-to-riches-to-rubble story of a Mariel boatlift refugee who becomes a cocaine kingpin that made him a legend. In the unlikely event you’ve never met an American male, this is where they get all their catchphrases.
Three mobsters, three decades: witness the rise and fall of "Jimmy the Gent" (Robert De Niro), Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) in Scorsese’s best-loved Mafia movie. Brash and brutal, though it sort of peters out at the end, Goodfellas begs the question: is there a cinematic pleasure finer than watching Robert De Niro cry?
The Crying Game
Irish writer-director Neil Jordan won an Academy Award for the Crying Game screenplay, which tells a profoundly romantic gangster story amidst the civil war that was The Troubles. Come for Stephen Rea’s Oscar-nominated starring role, stay and Forrest Whitaker’s performance will break your heart.
Look no further than this noir crime thriller to witness David Fincher at his blockbuster best. When detectives Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills (Brad Pitt) get on the trail of a serial killer who is murdering his victims with methods inspired by the seven deadly sins, it isn’t just a race against time, it’s a descent into the darkest parts of the human psyche.
The holy trinity that is Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Martin Scorsese reached its zenith in this 1995 crime epic, which tells the story of a Mafia associate (De Niro) and his Wiseguy enforcer (Pesci) who head out west to make the most of a Las Vegas casino. Ostentatious outfits and potent quotables abound, but it’s the way Casino captivates with the promises and pitfalls of the American dream that make it ‘sese’s second-best movie ( After Hours is #1, sorry).
It takes a serious director to pit heavy-hitters Al Pacino and Robert De Niro against one another, but this 1995 cat-and-mouse caper had one. It was, in fact, the first time in film history that the two ever shared a scene on-screen—and you better believe Michael Mann made the most of it.
You could base an entire film history course on this neo-noir cop thriller starring Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, and Kevin Spacey, and it would double as an American history course as well. Director Curtis Hanson (In Her Shoes, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle) can be hit-or-miss, but if the Best Screenplay Oscar he shared with co-writer Brian Helgeland (Mystic River) is any indication, LA Confidential is a bullseye.
Way of the Gun
You’d be hard-pressed to find cooler performances from Benicio Del Toro and Ryan Phillippe than when they played lowlife drifters in this cult favorite from Christopher McQuarrie, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of The Usual Suspects. It’s not an uplifting movie, but it’s certainly one worth quoting.
Denzel Washington was a famous actor before Training Day, but his Academy Award-winning turn as the sinister Detective Alonzo Harris in Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day made him an icon. When it comes to the head-on collision between social ideals and the realities of the street, you’d be hard-pressed to find a movie harder than this.
City of God
In 2002, co-directors Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund treated American moviegoers to the harsh realities of youth in a Rio de Janeiro favela with the hyper-stylish City of God. Not only is this expertly-made crime thriller a formal gut-punch, it’ll tear you up inside like heart surgery with a rusty scalpel.
Although you might not guess it from the trailer, this 2006 thriller is actually some of Spike Lee’s best work. Hostage negotiator Denzel Washington and Manhattan business woman Jodie Foster face off against a particularly slippery kidnapper played by Clive Owen, and the result is the kind of ride you get when your MTA conductor needs to make up for train delays.
Where Ryan Gosling is characteristically aloof, Sir Anthony Hopkins’s sinister incisiveness shines through in this perfectly-cast legal thriller from Gregory Hoblit (Primal Fear, Fallen). Hopkins (yes, this very same guy) plays the killer Ted Crawford, while Gosling’s rising-star prosecutor Willy Beachum is the man who has to put him behind bars. Game on.
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