(WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS BELOW)
The other day I was thinking long and hard about what makes a good movie villain. And as difficult as it was, I have attempted to narrow the long list of superb acting-performances and conflicting characters in one blog post–if but for the moment.
As this subject will not truly be complete in this one blog post, here is my current discussion I am opening to you, Loyal Moviegoers: what villains have impacted our cinema over the years?
We will ease into this post with a familiar but iconic screen villain, HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). A lifeless, monotone robot created by man to assist in the spacemens’ journey across the cosmos. In the laid back pacing of the film its “chapters”, it is, of course, HAL’s voice that continues to build the suspense and uncertainty of the drawn out scene he turns against his creators. It is the only way he interacts with us and the spacemen, other than his red eye that stares directly into the camera for an extended period of time. If not incredibly threatening to the moviegoers of today, we must respect Stanley Kubrick’s creation of an antagonist with no soul but merely a program to follow orders, yet fears its own death.
Perhaps one of my favorite comedic villains of all time will be that of Dustin Hoffman’s Captain Hook in Spielberg’s Peter Pan-style, Hook (1991). Hoffman’s excellent adaption of a cartoon-based character to screen was pure magic, from his bellows at Shmee to his fear of clocks. Oh, it makes me crack up overtime! And for as long as I can remember, I always have a little bit of sympathy for the bad ol’ captain when his “dignity” is knock off his head and he kneels in defeat. So, Hoffman does a great job of giving an overall “casual villain” a bit more character.
Although not a true adaption of the original character, Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) must have had a blast working on the character of Judge Frolo. What a character! In the original text by Victor Hugo, Frolo is a much more compassionate and caring character–with his flaws, of course–but here he is made a clear villain to the children watching Disney’s next musical-animated feature. The voice of Tony Kay is fantastic for this adaption of the judge, and I enjoy the immediately clear cruel and evil intentions of the man made in the movie. I was also impressed with how far Disney allowed Frolo to show is primal lust for Esmerelda. Perhaps a far deeper excuse for the bad guy to be so bad than most other films.
Simple as though it is, The Soldiers from Dances With Wolves (1990) are perhaps one of the greatest conflicting story arcs told. A lot of it has to do with the audience familiar grasp of history, and seeing the inevitable. The films showed a very heartfelt view from the side of the Sioux Indians, which makes us more compassionate towards their goal of a simple life together, rather than the white man to come through and waste the land. The audience aware of how it truly ends is perhaps the worst villain for any group of moviegoers.
Moving along the vein of westerns, I have to quickly comment on Gene Hackman’s role of Little Bill from Unforgiven (1991). Clint Eastwood’s highly acclaimed western proved that even bad lawman can be good men with good intentions on the other side. In this truly original story, Sheriff Little Bill has an absolute hate for assassins, bounty hunters, “…And men of low character.” But his hate for these folk lead to his own undoing. That and his overconfidence in the fear he has laid down on the people of Big Whiskey.
Inspector Javert from any of the adaptions of the classic novel (but I like to reference Geoffrey Rush and Russell Crowe’s performances). Perhaps one of the greatest characters ever written, who is truly not a villain; merely an antagonist of the story. A man who believes completely in the law and how evil men will always be evil men; unable to change their ways. And he is impossibly fueled to hunt down the convict Jean Valjean. As well of a performance that Crowe gave, Rush’s take leaned further on the desperation of capturing Valjean, which I prefer for cinema. Crowe’s dealt more with his endeavor to uphold the law (but I need to see the 2012 musical again to further assess my opinion of the performance).
Naturally, a particular performance we must note is Javier Bardem’s role in No Country For Old Men (2007). While not particularly impressed with the film overall (or the book, which I have tried to read three times, unsuccessfully), Bardem’s psychopathic hitman Anton Chigurh who is hired to recover the missing satchel of money at any cost. If for no other reason, watching this film once for Bardem is enough! When he walked on screen, I could not help but cringe! His presence is unusually creepy and powerful. He won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his part in this film–rightly deserved!
Ah, now onto one of my favorite performances ever given on the big screen: Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York (2002), playing the Protestant nativist, Bill “The Butcher” Cutting. Oh, oh! What a beautifully delivered part! I have no words to describe the sheer magnitude of his screen presence, if not for one scene that proves it all. (Dead Rabbit scene). This one is all in the performance!
And finally–are you ready for it…?
The universally acclaimed, award winning, incredibly acted, intense, iconic villain of the Batman universe…Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight (2008). I know, I know, you saw this coming, but Ledger deserves that much praise for his AMAZING performance. So, so, so many doubted the man could pull of the familiar psychopath from the comics…but he did, and then some! The Nolan brothers certainly had a ball writing such an incredibly original character, who wants nothing more than to create chaos. He wants to just watch the world burn. Its amazing how no one had truly thought of that basic concept until now! Oh, and putting that with Ledger’s dedicated performance! I truly cannot express how outstanding of a job he did!
Well, in the end, you got a little taste of my thoughts on some (and some not) well-known and familiar villains of the big screen.
But who are some of your favorites? Who did you grow up watching and finding disgusting, terrifying, or plan bad?
I hope these characters offer you a starter list of a number of movies to watch!