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    Bruce Willis in Hostage (2005) (Rex/Shutterstock)

    Ten underrated thrillers

    11 November 2020

    As we are now well into the unwanted Lockdown sequel and winter approaches, time perhaps to enjoy an enforced home cinema experience with a selection of movie thrillers that you may have missed the first time round.

    Titles range from big budget star vehicles to smaller scale pictures that introduced us to some of the possible on and off-screen icons of tomorrow.

    The Coldest Game (2019) – Netflix

    I came across this Polish-produced Cold War thriller one night when searching for movies similar to Bridge of Spies (2015).

    Whilst not in the same league as Spielberg’s picture, The Coldest Game has enough twists and turns to engage the viewer, with Bill Pullman (Independence Day) playing an eccentric American chess genius Joshua Mansky, inveigled into spy shenanigans at a tournament in Communist Warsaw circa 1962.

    The twist? Mansky’s strange behaviour and alcoholism is revealed to be partly due to his inherent genius, with hard liquor essential to slow his hyperactive brain down enough to function.

    The Good Liar (2019) – Amazon Rent/Buy

    This frankly barmy thriller from Bill Condon reunites the director with his Gods & Monsters/Mr Holmes star Ian McKellen to cast him as shifty but superficially charming conman ‘Roy Courtnay’, who has his greedy eye on the savings of wealthy widow Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren).

    Needless to say, there are wheels within wheels, which would take far too long to elucidate – and anyway which would spoil the delirious black humour of the movie, that heads into a quite unexpected (and unbelievable) direction.

    Dragged Across Concrete (2018) – Amazon Prime

    Craig Zahler’s relentlessly downbeat, slow-moving thriller is so glum as to make his previous picture, the blood-drenched Brawl on Cell Block 99 (2017) seem like an episode of Porridge.

    Cash-strapped suspended cops Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn) target a team of bank robbers to ripoff their score.

    The vibe is fatalistic throughout, with only Tory Kittles as the comparatively principled ex-con Henry Johns enjoying something like a happy ending.

    That’s not to say that DaC is totally without humour – witness this scene of Vaughn eating during a stakeout, and Gibson’s pained reaction.

    Despite the slow pace, Dragged Across Concrete is well worth checking out.

    Bad Day for the Cut (2017) – Netflix

    This low budget revenge thriller set in Northern Ireland packs an unexpected punch, as sad sack farmer Donal (Nigel O’Neill) wakes up in the family homestead to find that his mother has been killed, for no apparent reason.

    This prompts Donal’s violent quest for revenge and the truth about his mother.

    Susan Lynch (Ready Player One/Downton Abbey) is on form as nasty mob boss Frankie.

    Shot Caller (2017) – Amazon Rent/Buy

    Ric Roman Waugh’s hard-edged prison drama sees prosperous stockbroker and family man Jacob Harlon (GoT’s Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) sentenced to 16 months at the California Institution for Men in Chino after causing a collision whilst legally intoxicated.

    To avoid being on the bottom rung of prison life, Harlon joins a white supremacist gang, despite his previous lack of racist views. Adopting tattoos and the attitudes of the group, Harlon – now called ‘Money’, rises through the ranks but is sentenced to a further nine years in maximum security after killing a rival gang member. And from there on, things don’t get much better for him…

    The Accountant (2016) – Amazon Rent/Buy

    Rain Man meets Bourne in this muscular thriller, where Ben Affleck plays the accountant of the movie’s title, an autistic savant who combines a talent for double-entry book-keeping with a Taken-style skill set.

    An agreeably twisty plot and strong support from the likes of J.K. Simmons, Anna Kendrick, Jon Bernthal, Jean Smart and John Lithgow make Gavin O’Connor’s enjoyably preposterous actioner a fun ride.

    The Accountant proved a big enough box office hit to generate hopes for a sequel – or a TV series.

    Savages (2012) – Netflix

    For me, it was either going to be Ridley Scott’s derided The Counsellor (2013) or this similar Oliver Stone crime cartels caper.

    I chose Savages, as whatever its faults, it’s a good-looking movie and doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is just as well, considering the absurdities of the California marijuana growers vs Mexican cartel storyline. Think Layer Cake in Laguna Beach.

    An easy on the eye cast includes Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Salma Hayek, Emile Hirsch , Blake Lively and John Travolta – minus his usual syrup.

    Contraband (2012) – Netflix

    This remake of the Icelandic thriller Reykjavík-Rotterdam (2008) was directed by Baltasar Kormákur, the star of the original picture.

    As can be expected, the Hollywood version ups the stakes of the first iteration, but thankfully retains much of the grit.

    The action is relocated to New Orleans, with Mark Wahlberg starring as a former master smuggler who has forced to turn from his legitimate career as a security consultant for one last run.

    So far, so familiar, but Contraband stands out in terms of the amount of detail given in terms of the techniques of modern day smuggling, the location work (including Panama City) and casting.

    Joining Wahlberg are Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Caleb Landry Jones, Giovanni Ribisi, Lukas Haas, Diego Luna and J. K. Simmons again – altogether as strong a line-up as you could hope for in this kind of meat-and-potatoes movie.

    Hostage (2005) – Amazon Rent/Buy

    Before he began his depressing recent career move in churning out dreary Direct-to-DVD fare, Bruce Willis starred in this surprisingly effective little thriller.

    Playing a former LA SWAT hostage negotiator downsizing after tragedy to become a small town Ventura County sheriff, Willis has to contend with corrupt cops, unhinged home invaders and the mafia when a crooked accountant and his family are held hostage.

    By no means a classic, but Hostage is more than a few notches above recent Bruce flicks such as Catch 44, Precious Cargo, Marauders and Survive the Night.

    Ripley’s Game (2002) – Amazon Rent/Buy

    Of all the various onscreen permutations of the Patricia Highsmith’s charming sociopath Tom Ripley, that of John Malkovich in Liliana Cavani’s Ripley’s Gameis probably the oddest – and most enjoyable.

    Sexually ambiguous Ripley is now living in some style in Northern Italy with his beautiful wife Luisa (Chiara Caselli), but likes to keep his hand in with the occasional homicide.

    When Ripley overhears dying expat art-framer Trevanny (an on-form Dougray Scott) insulting him, he puts a plan of revenge into operation, but the duo eventually discover a surprising kinship.

    Lots of black humour and an enjoyable performance from Ray Winstone as Reeves, a shady, uncouth, fried-egg flipping criminal colleague of Ripley.