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Top Ten Screen Anti-Heroes

What do we love more than a hero? An Anti Hero. Someone to root for that is not perfect. So what defines an anti-hero? This is a varying list. Some are just likeable goofs with a good heart but just not enough sense or responsibility to get things right, and some are murderers with a wry smile. There appears to be little dogma in the definition. I have always thought of an anti hero as someone who you root for but ultimately would hate in real life. So here are the ten on-screen characters that are just not role model material

1: Bobby Hughes: Drugstore Cowboy - Matt Dillon

The undisputed leader of his gang.  This drug-soaked road movie about a pharmacy-robbing opiate-addicted superstitious alpha is a cult-classic.  Kelly Lynch and the always gorgeous Heather Graham play along and a guest appearance by the beat-poet William S Burroughs.  His wit and his delivery make you root for him as he completes his journey through addiction and morality.  A highlight of his oratory is the scene with the drug-counselor where he explains his philosophy on the whole lifestyle he leads

2: Alex DeLarge Clockwork Orange - Malcolm McDowell

The film realisation of Anthony Burgess’s ultra-violent Dystopian future novel explores the world of disaffected youth and in particular the journey of the amoral Alex.  He is an intelligent and humourous.  He is at once both villain and victim and we find him engaging in both.  The full circle of repercussion plays out deliciously here.  Out of service for a long time due to Kubrick withdrawing it. It came back after his death but it has to be said, many of the new generation expected a Romper-Stomper / John Woo type experience after hearing it was banned and, sadly it was not so well received after the directors death and subsequent re-release. It may have appeared dated, but only in an effects sense. It had both a seventies, and a futuristic feel.  The Beethoven-loving Alex was going to be originally either a Beatles or an Elvis fan.  However, Anthony Burgess felt this would timestamp the story and by making his cultural influence of centuries prior, it was an understandable decision and one I think worked brilliantly.  Malcolm McDowell stunned the world in this role, and it launched him to worldwide fame.

3: Tony Soprano: The Sopranos - James Gandolfini

It is burned into our TV brains.  One of the first HBO outings and in my opinion still not beaten.

The Sopranos is unquestionable in its ruling and place.  It is pure class.  The late James Gandolfini, given the role after his screen-presence as the mid-level enforcer in True Romance, is unbettered as the sociopath New Jersey mob boss.  Juggling family, infidelity, coordinating the younger/older/more stupid members of his crew, answering to the more powerful New York outfits, riding the wave of his destructive relationships with both his vile and terrible mother and his evil Uncle Junior. We grow to love Tony.  Even after murdering an unarmed young man who calls for his mother, shunning and insulting his daughters boyfriend because he is black, and all the amoral indulgences he partakes in for both professional and personal reasons.  The series is tied together by the narrative of his therapy sessions with the fantastic Lorraine Bracco as Dr Jennifer Melfi.

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4: Carlito Brigante: Carlitos Way - Al Pacino

A first outing for Pacino here.  As the uber-cool Carlito, a recently released heroin trafficker.  A legend in the Spanish barrio he decides to go straight.  However demons from his past will make this a difficult ride.  A modest hit at the time of it’s release, it picked up a cult following.  In no small way due to Pacino and his hilarious court speech, capable handling of a drug-deal gone bad with his little cousin (“Here come the pain!”), and his effortless swagger in the club scenes and his running away from the mob, before his 60-a-day cigarette habit made him a more slow actor.  Another highlight is the frizzy-haired coke-snorting lawyer, Davey Kleinfeld, played memorably by Sean Penn (the basis for Mike Strutter). There are great roles played by other actors, but Pacino in his leather jacket to a LaBelle soundtrack makes it. Not a favourite of the MeToo movement.  To be fair, women are portrayed in a very old fashioned way, but it is Spanish working-class NYC in the seventies.  Get ready for the toughest ending in movie history, and to my mind, the biggest mistake in telling you at the start.

5: Ryan O Reilly: Oz - Dean Winters

HBO's first show was a brutal, aggressive, and totally spellbinding effort called Oz. Set in an upstate New York prison with an experimental open-plan facility called Emerald City (Oz). There is a bank of memorable and colourful (if terrifying) characters but if we want cool and charismatic we stop at Ryan O Reilly. A cheerful sociopath, in for death by dangerous driving and various other felony counts. He is sly, devilishly good looking, and with more Irish charm than the Blarney Stone. You like and root for him. although he is vile. He manipulates others to do his bidding, admitting to another inmate that these days if he needs to kill someone he stirs up trouble to make others do it. He is great at it also (that said,he does then beat said prisoner to death with a free-weight). On the streets he led the powerful O Reilly Brothers street-gang with his brother Cyril. Cyril has brain damage from getting into a fight caused by Ryan and his womanising. Cyril joins him in jail, but his new handicap makes him a target and after he is raped by the Aryans, Ryan plots revenge. Cyril is the only man he loves and cares for, however he does still manipulate him into situations for his personal gains, using him for murder, betting scams, and protection. Ryan is still fiercely protective of his brother but comes undone at times when Cyril's massive physical strength proves a problem and Cyril's ultimate undoing. He never rises to the top, preferring to hold the strings of power through machiavellian means in middle-management. He is as close to a modern Iago as any show has produced. A leader in the riot that destroys the prison, he survives all series. Beating heroin addiction, breast cancer, and a rake of vendettas. He is respected by the powers and shows a rare asexual affection to the prison nun, Sister Peter-Marie Always in a green vest with a glint in his eye and a devilish smile. Watch out, he is not your friend. Still, villainy was rarely this sexy.

6: Randall Graves: Clerks - Jeff Anderson

Randall Graves, the quick-witted, loose-moralled, over-sexed store clerk with a hatred for customers. His acerbic wit and fierce protection of his best friend, the more sensible and less confident Dante Hicks is intoxicating. We meet him in Clerks, along with Jay and Silent Bob, and then in various other cameos in Kevin Smith's View Askewniverse, up until the surprisingly hilarious sequel, Clerks II. He has aged and has lost the vim of youth, looking a bit chunky and coming off as more of a seedy letch. That said, he is still as hilarious and his love for his soon-to-be-departed-to-Florida best mate, is not diminished. It has to be said though, the monologues and delivery in his youthful baritone in the first movie are never bettered. A role model for disaffected-yet-intelligent angry members of generation X everywhere. It was a toss up between him and Brodie Bruce from Mallrats. So I picked them both.

7: Tony Montana: Scarface - Al Pacino

A second outing for Al Pacino. Here he plays the Cuban anti-Castro petty-crook, sent over in the Cuban Crime-Wave of the eighties, preceeding the cocaine explosion in Miami. He rises to the top of the lucrative drug trade with his best friend Manolo. The classic Icarus-style story . Why is he an anti-hero? He came from the gutter and rises up, he is loyal, he protects his friends, he does not wish to play politics, and refuses to grease dirty cops and snitch on small-timers, preferring to fight face-to-face. Full of classic lines, as well as superb dialogue, his partnership with drug kingpin Alejandro Sosa spirals and the reason we love Tony is shown: His moral code is his ultimate undoing and his humanity and decency leads to his downfall. The ending shows that no-one is unstoppable, and whilst it is remembered for catchy lines and violence, it is also a very intelligent twist on the parable of the American dream. Once called "The Popcorn Godfather" it is rare you find someone who does not like this movie.

8: Brodie Bruce: Mallrats, - Jason Lee

Before Scientology, and the ambitiously voluminous My Name is Earl, Jason Lee was Brodie. Along with his best friend TS Quint (can you guess what shark film the director is a fan of?) they spend the day in the the local mall, both having been dumped by their respective girlfriends. Brodie spends the day avoiding his ex and her new beau, played by Ben Affleck, who wishes to do him a physical disservice, ducking the mall security guard, LaFours (yep, another reference), scheming with Jay and Silent Bob (when they were still funny), and trying to get T.S back with his girl, Brandy, who's father, played hilarioulsly by Michael Rooker, is hosting a gameshow in the mall. With more natural outrage than anyone else, more pop-culture references than a million Marvel movies, and a warm and endering humour, peppered by a razor-sharp script showcasing Brodie's angst. This movie did more for the genre than it is credited for and should dwarf American Pie, Clueless, and Superbad in takings as it is vastly superior and injected a much needed boost into the tired genre. sadly often overlooked, I am sure I am not the only half-geek that saw plenty of themselves in Brodie. The soundtrack is immense, and it really was a watershed.

Is racism still with us? This tells us the truth, as different as it might be

9: Doc Holliday: Tombstone - Val Kilmer

The only entry that was a real person from history. However, it is purely Val Kilmers's delivery that we are focusing on. Even alongside such giants as Kurt Russell and Powers Boothe, the whole movie is remembered for the wise-cracking, perpetually drunk, tuberculosis-riddled John 'Doc' Holliday. A friend of the main character, Wyatt Earp, and a man feared for his deadly pistol skills. The film focuses around the events before and after the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral (proving that the so-called Wild West was a bit of a gimmick considering its most famous shootout only claimed three lives). It is a classic movie, rich with the great trope of revenge. There is not soul-searching or lessons to be learned by the better man. It is pure old-fashioned action and among the best from the nineties. Still it is made by Val Kilmer's slurred sarcasm, and his cool phrasework. How many people have said the line "I'm your huckleberry" in a southern accent to emulate the Doc? Daft considering he did not even say that, but still, I bet you have all heard it or said it, regardless of how wrong.

If you have not seen Tombstone, wait until you want a proper film-romp, a swashbuckling ride and no cerebral think-pieces. You will just find yourself waiting for Val Kilmer's next appearance. The Latin-off with Michael Beigh's Johnny Ringo, his on-screen rival is a particular highlight. Truly this film is a gem of the screen and the glitter is Doc Holliday.

10: Travis Bickle:: Taxi Driver - Robert DeNiro

Okay so none of us want to be Travis Bickle. Doesn't take away that we all probably want to do what he did. He shows he is a good intelligent man, he takes underage prostitute Iris and berates her for being a fool. Here showing he has a streetwise head and a considerable heart. However, then he takes his date, an intelligent, strong, succesful young woman, to a porno theatre. We relate to him and then he baffles us. the narrative and the progression and the thought of "A real rain" coming is just to exciting to avoid.

A perfect study of the juxtaposition the the duality of man creates in us all is shown to extremes here. Intelligent, gripping, and gruesome (the reason it goes to different camera styles at the end shootout was so it would not be banned from general cinemas under censorship laws).

I find the voiceover reading the letter from her parents at the end is one of the most heartwarming narratives ever committed to film. His sacrifice saved the girl 100%. She went home and her family had her back and the outpouring of love they have for Travis is something we all long for.

Like Doug Stanhope said: "Robert DeNiro used to be an actor" and when you compare his modern phoned-in rubbish to masterpieces of craft-work like this, you can see why some people think he has sold out. An epoch-making character. Possibly with the most imitated line in cinema history

Honourable Mentions:

Nina Myers: 24, Sarah Clarke

Johnny: Naked, David Thewlis

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1 Comment

Feb 18, 2020

Taxi driver shocked by the reality of the film at my tender age

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