Top 10 Thrilling Modern Outlaws
Attention, filmmakers: If you want an audience to get behind a particular character, make him go it alone, force him to do things his own way. Renegade style. Whether he’s fighting for the good of mankind or redefining what constitutes evil, we can’t help but find him intriguing. These are self-sufficient guys with no apologies, few rules, and even fewer questions asked. And here are some of our favorites, our Top 10 Thrilling Modern Outlaws.
10. Morgan Freeman as Bill Cabot in THE SUM OF ALL FEARS (2002)
In his film career, Morgan Freeman has played The President of the U.S.A., Nelson Mandela and even God. So why not the Director of the CIA? In this fourth film adaptation of a Tom Clancy novel, Freeman plays DCI Cabot as a guy with enough DIY fortitude to buck convention and rely on a naive intelligence analyst (Ben Affleck) when Russian relations start heading towards nuclear hell in a handbasket. Cabot is experienced, fatherly, cool (of course) and fully capable of dealing with an espionage-crazed world. Yeah, that’s Morgan Freeman all the way.
9. Javier Bardem as Agustin Rejas in THE DANCER UPSTAIRS (2002)
If you’ve seen NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, you know Javier Bardem is really great at playing an indefinably horrific person. But he’s also completely believable on the right side of things, as in John Malkovich’s directorial debut, playing an idealistic lawyer-turned-detective trying to keep his Latin American country safe from anti-government terrorists. As Rejas gets closer to the bad guys and the danger amps up on the streets, he begins a relationship with his daughter’s dance teacher (Laura Morante), and finds she may not be what she seems.
8. Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness in THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987)
He was the man who brought down Al Capone. How much more “outlaw” can you get? When Brian De Palma’s reality-based gangster chronicle was released in 1987, Costner was perfectly cast as Ness—he hadn’t yet become a mega-star (NO WAY OUT hit theaters about two months later), and he appeared a sturdy, determined family man dedicated to bringing down mobsters. Despite his clean living and good looks, Costner’s Ness rounds up a band of renegades, grabs some weapons, and pushes Capone and his cronies against the wall.
7. Bruce Willis as Goodkat in LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN (2006)
Bruce Willis has never had trouble exuding confidence on screen and here, he exudes it in spades. Easy to do when you’ve got a few weapons and some serious hitman skills. In this jumbled-up comic thriller from director Paul McGuigan, Willis is an assassin for hire (a “world-class assassin”, as he puts it) coming after a guy (Josh Hartnett) who’s been mistakenly caught up in a high-class gangster war between two elder bosses, played by Morgan Freeman and Sir Ben Kingsley. He stands firm, shoots straight, and threatens effectively. The guy has rarely looked cooler, despite the minimal hair on his head.
6. Mickey Rourke as Harry Angel in ANGEL HEART (1987)
A couple decades before Mickey Rourke played a lone wolf in the wrestling ring, he was a solo gumshoe in Alan Parker’s noir chiller about one man’s gradual descent into hell. Rourke plays a post-WWII patsy, hired to find a missing crooner named Johnny Favorite, searching for him in the darker recesses of the occult world. Without spoiling too much, let’s just say that poor Harry Angel doesn’t really know his own strength—or weaknesses. What do you want when your creepy bastard of a client is a menacing Robert De Niro?
5. Vince Vaughn as Pendleton "Penny" Wise in THE PRIME GIG (2000)
There was a time when Vince Vaughn’s resume was a hell of a lot more diverse—and less lucrative—than the current one that perpetuates his good-buddy party persona. Here’s proof. Vaughn plays a big-balls telemarketer lusting for money and the wrong woman (Julia Ormond), the mistress of his morally questionable mentor, played by Ed Harris. When Harris’s charismatic Kelly Grant (a nod to Gene Kelly and Cary Grant?) sees a path to making a goldmine in, well, an actual goldmine, he involves the manipulative, steely Pendleton. And the games begin.
4. Christopher Lambert as Connor Macleod "The Highlander" in HIGHLANDER (1986)
It can be pretty lonely being immortal. Watching others die around you, battling those who share your fate, having to fight for eternal power in 1985 New York City… This is the curse of one of the most beloved sword-wielding heroes of modern film, played by French-American Lambert with domineering stature and furrowed brow. This is a must-watch if only to see the now-outdated style of director Russell Mulcahy, the groundbreaking 1980s music video maverick, and to catch the original music by Queen. HIGHLANDER was followed by three widely reviled sequels (all starring Lambert) and a TV series, but as co-star Sean Connery warns, “In the end. There can be only one.” Obviously.
3. Jesse Eisenberg as Sam Gold in HOLY ROLLERS (2010)
What better way to become an instant outlaw than to break just about every moral constraint established by your culture? In this fact-based drama, Hasidic Jew Sam Gold follows the allure of peer acceptance and a quick payday to become an experienced, international drug smuggler. I guess this means the arranged marriage is off… Eisenberg, not yet inexorably linked to the shrewd Mark Zuckerberg, amplifies his natural naiveté to give HOLY ROLLERS a sense of danger and a taste of lost innocence. Look for an exciting performance from Justin Bartha (THE HANGOVER) as the jaded kid who introduces Gold to the dark side.
2. Robert De Niro as Louis Cypher in ANGEL HEART (1987)
The long, carefully sharpened fingernails. The soft, condescending tone. The bizarre ponytail. In Alan Parker’s nightmarish take on the detective genre, De Niro is a whole other type of godfather, a quiet enigma who sends Mickey Rourke’s private dick on a journey into his own tortured soul. In his few scenes, De Niro sits alone, his eerily calm demeanor scaring the crap out of Rourke’s Johnny Angel, along with the rest of us. And no one has ever eaten a hard-boiled egg so ominously. What does this freak show have in store for Angel? You’ll see.
1. Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth in BLUE VELVET (1986)
Deep under the sunny suburban exterior of David Lynch’s revered masterpiece, there lies a dark, twisted center. And Frank Booth is its manifestation, brought to life brilliantly by Hopper as a foul-mouthed, foul-minded, gas-inhaling lunatic, one of the strangest portrayals of evil ever put on popular film. In the midst of an acting resurgence with three critically embraced movies (flanked by RIVER’S EDGE and HOOSIERS), Hopper plays the now-iconic Booth with a shameless, fearless energy. You want to revile him. But you also want to share a Pabst Blue Ribbon with him. Okay, maybe from a distance.