Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Top Ten Jack Nicholson Anti Heroes

Jack Nicholson is one of the most well known actors in the world, having been in the business since the 1950's. The remarkable thing about Nicholson is the number of brilliant roles he's had in that time. He can tell the audience more with a facial expression than many actors can in a whole career. By now his smirk and raised eyebrows are something of a trademark. He rarely plays a straightforward role, seemingly preferring acerbic yet suave characters who are challenged, yet larger than life. Even now, he can be relied on to take over the screen any time he's on it. Of course there are many other roles that could as easily belong on the list. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments here or on the Facebook page.

10. Freddie Gale  (The Crossing Guard)

Freddie's daughter was killed by a drunk driver in a hit and run accident. The driver, John Booth (David Morse) was sentenced to serve six years in prison. During those years, Freddy's marriage has dissolved and he's spent most of his time drinking, sleeping with prostitutes, feeling guilty, and planning revenge. He imagines that killing Booth will somehow help things with his wife Mary (Anjelica Huston) and fix something in his own life. When Booth is released, Freddie finds that none of this will happen as easily as he'd imagined, not even when Booth offers no resistance at all.
"Tell the truth Mary! You want me to kill John Booth!"

9. Jerry Black (The Pledge)

On the day he retires, Police Chief Jerry Black, investigate the rape and murder of a child. When asked by the victim's parents, he makes a promise to catch the killer. Despite the arrest and then suicide of a suspect, Black is certain the killer is still out there. Once retired, he pleads with the department to keep the case open, although he is largely ignored. He buys a gas station in the area of the attacks, and starts a relationship with a woman who has a young daughter in the age range of likely victims. Finding clues about the killer, he investigates deeper until the case becomes an obsession, and leads him to some dangerous activities, which place those around him, and his own credibility in danger.
"I made a promise, Eric. You're old enough to remember when that meant something."

8. Jimmy Hoffa (Hoffa)

Presumably, everyone's aware of Jimmy Hoffa the famous union organizer. Here we get a look of the man at work and Nicholson portrays him like an unstoppable machine (for a while.) Hoffa is willing to do anything and ally himself with anyone if it will increase the power of his union, giving truck drivers more weight to use against the owners. More than a suit, he wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty, which earned him the support of many working men. He also made a lot of powerful enemies. And, he is certainly no saint, even to his own allies, if it served the interests of the union. Perhaps he made himself too formidable of an opponent, as in the end there was only one way to handle a guy who wouldn't back down.
"Never let a stranger in your cab, in your house or in your heart... unless he is a friend of labor."

7. The Joker (Batman)

Long before the current series of Batman movies, and before comic book films were expected to be successful, Tim Burton's vision with Michael Keaton as Batman and Nicholson as his nemesis, the Joker seemed to promise that comic book characters could make for an interesting movie. It's Nicholson's movie as much as it is Keaton's, and his portrayal gives us a character who is capable of any atrocity, yet never loses his twisted sense of humor. As dedicated to entertaining as he was to malevolence, he showed that any hero is largely defined by his adversary. While none of the sequels lived up to the first one, it was a strong film on it's own and Nicholson was a large part of it.
"Tell me something, my friend. You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight? "

6. Francis Phelan (Ironweed)

Francis Phelan is an older alchoholic vagrant who used to be a baseball player, but one day left his life behind. During the great depression, Phelan wanders around, taking odd jobs for a place to sleep while dealing with his alcoholism, guilt over the dead, including a lost son, and his mental problems. Revisiting his hometown, Albany, he spends some time with his girlfriend, former singer and fellow alcoholic Helen Archer (Meryl Streep.) He briefly connects with his wife, Annie, from the past, although he's past the point of returning to what he once had.
"Goddamn dead men, traveling around together."

5.Robert Dupea (Five Easy Pieces)

Robert Dupea lives a simple, blue collar life, working an oil field and drinking beer with his friend Elton, (Billy Bush) and spending time with his girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black.) Elton is soon arrested for a robbery and Rayette tells Robert she's pregnant, prompting him to leave his job and visit his sister. She urges Robert to go see his father whose health is failing. He heads to his father's place, leaving simple Rayette at a hotel as she would clash with his family's atmosphere of privilege. Robert has a fling with his brother's wife to be, and is surprised when Rayette gets bored at the hotel and finds him, causing Robert to confront his family and their way of life before leaving, although he still has as many difficulties with Rayette and his attempts at blue collar life and may just not fit in anywhere.
"I move around a lot, not because I'm looking for anything really, but 'cause I'm getting away from things that get bad if I stay. "

4. "Badass" Buddusky (The Last Detail)

Sailors Buddusky and Mulhall (Otis Young) are assigned to escort young fellow sailor Larry Meadows (Randy Quaid) to Portsmouth Naval Prison, where he's to serve eight years for a minor offense. Knowing that the oddly likeable but inexperienced Meadows is about to lose the best years of his his youth to the grim prospect of incarceration, Buddusky and Mulhall decide to give him a good time on the way to Portsmouth. They get him drunk and help him lose his virginity among many other new experiences. Meadows has the "best time of his life." but as much fun as Buddusky and company are having, the Navy is his life and he still has a job to do.
"Why does all of this make me feel so fucking bad?"

3. Jack Torrance (The Shining)

Jack Torrance gets a job, being caretaker for the Overlook Hotel. Part of that position is the likelihood of being snowed in for great lengths of time, which is blamed for causing a former caretaker to murder his family. Jack sees it as a chance to devote time to his writing and to put his messy life back together. Jack's son, Danny starts to have disturbing visions, and we learn that he has "The Shining" and extrasensory gift. Jack falls under the influence of supernatural presences in the hotel and soon goes insane, attempting to repeat the behavior of the previous homicidal caretaker, while his family tries to survive. Kubrick's film has been criticized for departing from the novel it was based on, but Nicholson's acting helped make it a classic nonetheless.
"I dreamed that I, that I killed you and Danny. But I didn't just kill ya. I cut you up in little pieces. Oh my God. I must be losing my mind."

2. Jake "J.J." Gittes (Chinatown)

Private Investigator J.J. Gittes takes a pretty normal adultery case, but after taking pictures of the suspected cheating husband, Hollis Mulwray, he learns that his client, Evelyn Mulwray, was not Mrs. Mulwray at all. Hollis Mulwray is found dead soon afterwards, prompting Jake to do some more digging. He investigates reservoirs which were Hollis' main focus, and gets his nose slashed for his trouble. He gets closer to the real Evelyn Mulwray, and crosses paths with her father, the powerful and influential Noah Cross (John Huston.) Soon he realizes that the situation is more twisted than he could've imagined, and a lot bigger than he can handle.
"Sometimes you're better off not knowing."

1. R.P. McMurphy (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest)

Nicholson's McMurphy is a force of nature. Getting himself sent to a mental hospital in order to avoid jail time, he runs into more trouble than he anticipated, clashing with the ruthless Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher.) He's celebrated by his fellow inmates, who eagerly take his lead in opposing the stifling administration. Ratched takes his disdain for the rules personally and their conflict escalates until the state of his mental health becomes unimportant, and punishing him becomes the main objective. Her coldness towards the fate of his fellow inmates sets McMurphy over the edge and when he reacts, we see that the system has many ways of controlling people, breaking those that won't bend to its will.
"But I tried, didn't I? Goddamnit, at least I did that."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

25th Hour

What About It?
(Click on "What Happens?" below for complete summary of the movie.)

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote  "That is my principal objection to life, I think: It's too easy, when alive, to make perfectly horrible mistakes."  25th Hour is a film that deals with exactly that problem. We're watching a man say goodbye to his whole life because of mistakes he made without even thinking about them until they became habit.

An interesting aspect of the film is that Monty Brogan is not outwardly a cold hearted criminal, but seemingly a pretty nice guy. We're introduced to him stopping on the side of the road to save an injured dog, even following through when the dog bites him. Monty's father tells him "it's a gift, you make friends wherever you go." and we can see that in him. One thing that Monty is not, however, is a martyr. He's been a drug dealer for most of his life, and his looming prison sentence is a direct result of his activities. When Frank points out that Monty deserves it, he's not wrong. The prison sentence is a result of his actions and this should not be a surprise. He was not an unknowing pawn, as he dealt directly with the Russian mafia. As Slaughtery points out, all the nice things he bought were paid for "with human misery." Monty never tries to escape this accusation, he knows its true. However, in this film, it's too late to change any of that. He doesn't show remorse for dealing drugs or working with the mafia. As he points out to his father, "When Sal and his crew were squeezing you for the payments, I didn't hear you wishing I was a law school student then. I won one from you back then. Where did you think that money was coming from?" His occupation provided him benefits that were simply not obtainable through any other means and he enjoyed that. He doesn't feel badly about his occupation, although he feels badly that he threw his life away. It takes his seven year prison sentence to make him realize he shouldn't be doing what he's doing. He takes the opportunity to sever his ties with Uncle Nikolai, which is something of a Pyrrhic victory, but it's at least an attempt to extricate himself from the life he's trapped himself into.

Monty is a drug dealer but in his own way he's a moral person. His morals are simply skewed far differently than normal. He's kind to people (and animals) when he can be. His friends, his girlfriend and his father all love him. It's very clear that Monty tries to uphold his own principles, loyalty being one. His choice as to how he obtained money and influence must have seemed a sensible one at the time. Money is a concern for all of our characters and we see this in Monty's friends as well as himself. We have Frank who lives his whole life to make money in a legitimate fashion. As a result he is lacking any real relationships and presents himself as an egomaniac, constantly reminding others about the desirability his earnings give him. This is not lost on anyone around him, including a bartender, who has clearly heard him bragging about his desirability too many times. Jacob is another story, He comes from privilege, and feels guilty about it, keeping a teaching job in order to contribute something perhaps. Monty is able to work without sacrificing his whole life (until he's busted) like Frank, and still make a lot of money. It would seem he took up dealing drugs as a shortcut to success. Perhaps like many drug dealers, he rationalized that drugs would be sold whether he sold them or not. In Monty's world (and our own) he has the Enron scandal for comparison, as well as his problems with the Bush administration, and corrupt cops. This is not a world of simple good and bad guys. The "legitimately employed" Enron executives belonging much more to Frank's world than to Monty's. He's surrounded by people crossing moral lines. He's a drug dealer but he didn't trick anyone, he can reason he gave people what they wanted.

In the "Fuck You" bathroom scene we see him devote a lot of energy to this practice of comparison. We're given a tour of NY via Monty's angry and convenient stereotypes. After spending the whole day walking around and thinking, he blows up and blames everyone around him, before finally getting to the true cause of his problem, himself. By throwing everything out there, he's able to look and see how ridiculous his justification via comparison is. Sure, he's surrounded by people doing what they shouldn't, but he had his own choices, so he's left with "No. No, fuck you Montgomery Brogan. You had it all and you threw it away, you dumb fuck! " This monologue also tells us how much a part of Monty, his community is, as only someone tied to NY would rattle off the caricatures he's learned so quickly. On a deeper level, every accusation, asserts that his position is the correct one, which is of course not sustainable and ends with him pointing in his own direction.

Of course taking responsibility, doesn't eliminate the terrifying prospect of seven years in prison. His epiphany can't absolve him. Everyone's actions have consequences and in this film with the shadow of 9/11 everywhere around our characters,  it would seem difficult to believe in storybook endings. It's fitting then, that his revelatory moment happens closed off in a small bathroom, looking at himself in the mirror. As if to say, sure there's a cruel and unfair world all around you, but you still have to look at yourself. The atmosphere of 9/11 is a heavy presence in the film, although it's not talked about directly much other than Frank and Jacob looking out the window at ground zero. Even so, it's everywhere, the towers of light, the flags, Brogan's Bar with it's firefighter memorial. The tragedy is part of the atmosphere.This is a loss that looms over the whole city, and it mirrors Monty's impending loss of his future.

Edward Norton is perfect in this role and he gives his Monty a contradictory depth. We like our movie drug dealers to be nasty and evil, but here we have someone who isn't that at all, but a guy who made a big mistake a long time ago and naturally built his whole life around his error. We know he earned his sentence, yet we feel bad that one of his friends betrayed him. We dread his prison time, knowing that the things which make him likeable will only be problems inside. We also know that while Monty serves his time, Nikolai's operation will continue as it always has. While the film doesn't come out and directly critique drug laws it does pose that question. Nikolai is the nasty ruthless drug dealer, and he's untouched by the Rockefeller law cited here, Monty certainly being just a means to try and get to Nikolai. Monty's sense of loyalty aside, he knows that to turn on Nikolai is certain death, so the penalties would seem ineffective, only working on someone deluded enough to not realize this. Perhaps seven years is a suitable sentence for a kilo, but the efforts of the DEA seem paltry against the bigger movers and most effective against those like Kostya who aren't smart enough to know better. But again, ineffective drug laws are simply part of the world Monty lives in, not any justification for what he's done. Monty's speech regarding this being his first offense, is just another part of the mistake he's made, and likely a part of the justification he made for his lifestyle a long time ago.

This is a movie with an important supporting cast. We learn a lot about Monty and the world he lives in through his friends. Rosario Dawson is great as Naturelle, who seems like a good girlfriend for Monty. Even when he thinks she betrayed him, he can't bring himself to accuse her or ask her about it, knowing that even if she had, she's good in ways he can't be, and he still loves her even if she has. She appears to be loyal and devoted, but she has her own moral dilemma. As Frank points out when he confronts her, she has enjoyed the benefits of Monty's drug dealing. While she might have told him he should quit, she has to wonder how convincing her arguments were intended to be.

Barry Pepper is great as Frank, and he has a lot in common with Frank. He has the same desire for influence, but rather than take a shortcut, he's pursued his ambition through legal means. As a result Frank has devoted himself strictly to making money, and by his reasoning, increasing his desirability. Frank is the realist of the group, and not afraid to point out that Monty deserves his sentence, although he still "loves him like a brother." He spends a lot of energy reinforcing his own status as one of the "99 percentile." We see at work however, that Frank's security is not as solid as he would have others believe, having his job threatened based on daily decisions. He attempts to set himself up as detached, but again, in his confrontation of Naturelle, we see that he blames himself for not speaking up and trying to stop Monty. His scene towards the end, where Monty asks him to make him ugly, reveals that he's a better friend than perhaps he wants to be. We see that it hurts him very much to beat on his friend, and we wonder if Frank didn't get hurt more than Monty.

Philip Seymour Hoffman's Jacob, is in a different world than Frank and Monty. He's never had to worry about making money, so teaches English to make up for this. Jacob is socially inept and constantly awkward even with his closest friends. He's clearly struggling with many different issues, although his attraction to his student is the most crucial for this film. Jacob has a different sense of reality than his friends, even the idea of prison is strange to him, as we see when he suggests that Monty should be able to bring his dog to prison with him. He has a poor self image and feels inferior around most people, especially guys like Monty and Frank. His problems could well be as big as Monty's, as we see when he kisses his student in the club. Although we don't know the consequences of this action, one thing he has in common with Monty is the idea of consequence looming over him.

Brian Cox, while having limited screen time, is an immense presence in the film. His James Brogan has, as Monty puts it, "endless grief." We get that his character would gladly take all of the blame for Monty. He's not an infallible figure, and we know he, like everyone else, looked away from Monty's activity when it suited him, perhaps feeling he had no other choice. He knows what Monty has lived with growing up and while Monty won't blame his childhood for what he is, his Dad would be happy to let him, and ultimately he just wants things to be easier for his son. The ending of the film is one of the most touching sequences I can recall. Cox's narration is like a lullaby, and we know that all Monty has to do is say the word and maybe this other life can happen. The tragedy is that Monty knows he can't blame anyone but himself for where he is, and as a result he knows he can't get away and he won't say the word. Maybe it's a victory, but its a hard and painful one. As Cox points out when Monty tells him it would be "easier" to let him walk away. "My God, you don't understand." Their lives are tied together, "easier" isn't possible.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the film is watching the friends interact with each other. As Jacob points out, he and Frank are his "friends of the past." As a result they know things about each other that they never discuss. Frank is able to needle Jacob about his trust fund. Monty is able to point out how Frank looks at Naturelle, Jacob can reveal uncomfortable secrets, but they all remain friends. Their interaction with each other reveals more about themselves than they would like, most notably in the one on one moments they have with each other. Monty can only admit to Frank that he doesn't think he'll make it, and Frank in turn reveals that he cares a lot more than he lets on, trying his best to encourage him, even though we know a part of him knows this is the end. Monty treats Jacob like a little brother, knowing he has a very fragile ego. Naturelle will always be an outsider in their group, and it becomes clear that Monty is not the only one who is suspicious of her, although Frank's reasons for accusing her are likely more complicated than he lets on. As we see in the scene when Monty pushes Frank into beating him, the understandings that they have with each other are delicate things and a big part of friendship is not saying everything you can even though you may know it's true. They trust each other with great knowledge, knowing that one thought or inclination does not necessarily define them.

Spike Lee gives us an amazing and complicated piece, which at the same time seems very simple because it moves so clearly.While the movie clearly reflects the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, it's not limited by this. He shows us a city and a life that moves on in the shadow of many larger forces, where lives can be easily lost at any time and people can easily go astray without even realizing it until it's too late. No matter the tragedy, lives continue and people do what they think they should do (or not.) The city footage is amazing, particularly the opening with a look at the light towers against the city. A sense of the inevitable hangs over the film. At the opening, its already too late, for the towers, and for Monty, but of the three choices that Monty has, he chooses prison, because as doomed as he is, he can still hope like Jacob and Frank propose that there is something afterwards. The techniques Lee uses are masterful, like the mirror narration, illustrated by action in the background, (in contrast to the smiling faces Monty sees when they start the drive to prison) His father's narration at the end, where we're shown a life that maybe could've happened. It reminds us what a movie can do with some skill and imagination behind it.

Here we have a story where people are not black and white, they have many motivations and justifications, and often do the absolute wrong thing. Monty is a likable, but not an admirable character. In the course of his final day of freedom, he does manage to look at himself more honestly than he has in many years. He takes an inventory and finds he had a lot more in his life than he realized, and finally taking responsibility for himself, he hopes to have something again. The focus he gains from what hangs over him, gives him a look at his life he would probably not have seen under normal circumstances. What prison does to him is a bleak unknown, and not really the point of the movie. This is a film about the clarity that comes from knowing you can't escape what awaits you. In the brilliant ending we're left with the knowledge that people will keep hoping for a better alternative right until the very end. It's so tempting to hope that they're following that plan, taking a left turn and starting a new life. When you realize you're hoping this for a drug dealer who earned his sentence, you've arrived at the heart of the puzzle, and the idea that people have more to them than the mistakes they've made. We, like Monty, can sit with the fact that he is responsible for his actions, but still see it as a tragedy that a whole life is being thrown away.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


What About It?
(For a full summary of the film, scroll down to "What Happens?")

Thief is an amazingly strong film for being Michael Mann's first feature. What's even more amazing is how well it predicts what was to come from Mann; the fascination with crime figures, using the dark cityscape as a vital part of the movie, amazing attention to detail (even using former professional thieves as technical advisors.) beautiful cinematography, and the perfectly balanced score. These remain the crucial elements in Mann's toolbox today. He also had an amazing cast, with even bit players carrying all the weight they could. Caan is amazing in this film, and its easily my favorite role of his. James Belushi brings a solid presence to a relatively small part, and Tuesday Weld works terrifically as an unconventional girlfriend. Willie Nelson is perfect for his small role, effortlessly implying a larger history. Robert Prosky is terrific and terrifying as Leo, making a switch from affable to cutthroat without ever straining credibility. The film gave Mann a lot to live up to. It also gave us every reason to believe he'd be a director to watch. Based on his output since, I'd say he's more than justified that indication.

Thief is a heist movie that almost forgets it is a heist movie, as it's far more concerned with the character of Frank. Like any heist film, there's a doublecross, but in this case it's an expected one, not a case of the crew turning on each other. This is a film about an independent contractor who finds a good incentive for an "easy" paycheck, and convinces himself that it's ok to work for someone else for awhile, even though he knows better, and his unwillingness to accept the consequences of this arrangement.

Frank is a man who only knows how to live on his own, and has modeled his whole life in order to not be answerable to anyone. He was "raised by the state" as he reveals in his outburst at the adoption agency, and his experience there stays with him. He was then sent to prison at 20 years old, for stealing forty dollars. His unwillingness to be abused by the prison gang (both guards and convicts) results in his extended 11 year stay. Frank is a man who learned a lot in prison, for one, the attitude, which he mentions to Jessie, to not care if he lives or dies. The other thing he gets from prison is a father figure in Okla. Although we see little of their relationship, we know that Okla is very important to him, having taught Frank everything he knows about being a true professional thief, as well as encouraging him to try and really live his life. The collage that Frank carries with him as a representation of the life he wants, is likely an idea shared by Okla, and as significantly, prominently features Okla, telling us that Okla is a large part of the "family" he has always wanted to create. The advice Okla gives him, to "lie to no one." is instantly accepted by Frank, although given his line of work, it would seem very improbable that this suggestion would pay off.

Frank's relationship with Jessie is perhaps the most interesting one. He knows next to nothing about her, yet decides that he needs her to be his wife. Clearly, Frank has his mind on his plan, and Jessie's identity is less important than if she will agree to come along with him. He makes no secret of this, pointing to his collage at the wife/mother figure and saying "That's you." Jessie has no problem with this idea. Luckily, they turn out to be a good match, and she doesn't recoil at his secrets or his occupation. Of course, the baby, David, is a similar case, we don't see any paternal instinct in Frank, only the knowledge that success/family requires kids. The act of fathering means little to him. He doesn't blink when Jessie explains that she can't have kids. Without missing a beat, he suggests adoption. Although, we learn in the adoption agency that the idea of adopting isn't some much a second choice to Frank as it is to some.  He does realize that there are many unwanted children unable to find homes and sincerely wants to help. His offer to take "the least desirable" kid, says a lot about his thoughts on this.

Wife and kids are an affectation of success, just as much as the house and the car. Frank's piece of paper is his "American Dream." It is not however, as in many cases, a desire for status itself. Frank just wants to be "normal," and have a normal family, as this is one thing he's never had. Clearly he believes achieving this will bring happiness. Although, he's a thief by trade,  he isn't driven by greed, he's inspired more by the prospect of retiring than he is by a dollar figure. To him, money is simply the means to obtain his happiness.

His relationship with Barry is also worth looking at. Barry functions as a peer or perhaps a brother figure. His area of expertise is security while Frank handles the safes. They have a smooth working relationship, where Barry is trusted implicitly. When a job goes south, he doesn't question Barry's competence in the slightest, simply asks for the pertinent facts. While Frank is in charge of their operation, Barry is very clearly a partner rather than an employee. Certainly the two have some deep history between them, although it's only hinted at in the film. Barry is very likely though, Frank's first step towards "family" after getting out of prison.

Frank only falls in with Leo due to his "dream." Leo very clearly has Frank's number as he reveals when he has Frank captive in the plating facility. He tells Frank "You're scary because you don't give a fuck." echoing Frank's admission to Jessie, about that very same attitude. Leo is a master manipulator, and we know he was interested in Frank long before their first meeting. When he offers to be Frank's "father" he's appealing to a very deep need in Frank's psychology. Frank is compelled to be "self employed." because without a father figure, he has learned self reliance. Leo is in a sense, a graduation from the Okla father figure. Okla represented the life he dreamed about, while Leo offers him the practical side of obtaining that life. Okla however, was a "self employed" man himself and had no desire to "own" Frank. Leo's motivation is to own everyone. It seems the money he made from Frank's worth was just a side benefit of his desire to master Frank. In Leo's book, the only person allowed independence is himself. He despises Frank's unwillingness to  go along with "the way things are done." Leo is compelled to assert his authority as "the father." Free agents challenge this, and aside from his professionalism and competence, that's why he's fascinated with Frank. He knows exactly the things to say to Frank to soften the idea of someone "running him" We're "professional" We're "adults." he claims, presenting the employer/employee relationship as if he's still self employed but with benefits.

When Jessie agrees to be with him, he has his whole dream in sight, and remembering the way Leo presented the opportunity, he accepts it, justifying it as simply a way to speed things up. He also accepts Leo's assistance with obtaining a baby, and this is the moment when Leo's power solidifies. As Leo points out to him later, this is where Frank is no longer the guy who "doesn't give a fuck." but instead this the guy with responsibilities. Leo underestimates how Frank is wired though. Although he has put a lot of effort into creating his "family" he has been creating something that isn't natural to him. This is a man, who, at 20 years old and in prison for stealing forty dollars, admittedly scared, decides to take on a prison gang with only a pipe. This is someone who has a strong aversion to the idea of anyone "owning" him, stronger than he likely he even knows, as he puts much effort into downplaying this tendency in trying to be "civilized." For Frank, respect is important, and money is the indicator of respect, and so he can justify anything, if it's a matter of getting payed what's owed to him, as we see in the confrontations with both Attaglia and later, Leo.

The act of taking out Leo, is relatively simple once Frank realizes that Leo isn't really the problem. Frank's dream was the problem, as it made him vulnerable to the control of others. It wasn't really necessary in a practical sense, for Frank to blow up everything he'd worked for, but it was necessary for him as a reminder that he's the guy that "doesn't give a fuck." This is true enough, that it enables him to take out Leo, as Leo seriously underestimates his competence and resolve, but it still isn't entirely true. The over the top spectacle of all the explosions is Frank convincing himself. The truth is that Frank does give a fuck on some level and when he walks down the street wounded, at the end, it isn't just the gunshots. Frank had his dream within reach and dismantled it himself, but for a while he really believed in it. That's not something he's likely to forget, any more than he's forgotten his prison time or being raised by the state. For Frank life will always be  "all screwed up" and everything he does is just him trying to survive. It's likely that if Frank had succeeded in putting his perfect life together that he would've destroyed it another way, finding it didn't provide the fulfillment he craved. He is, after all trying to construct a perfect life, by piecing it together based on information he's gleaned by looking at the world around him, yet he has little experience with how such things are naturally obtained. He's missing something that he assumes is family, and perhaps he's even correct, but having never had it, he has nothing to return to and can only guess if he's achieved it which would only lead to him perpetually needing more. So, Frank walks off with his wounds because that's what he's done his whole life.

What Happens?

The film opens to a car stopping in the rain on a city street at night. Frank (James Caan) gets in the driver's seat and they drive off. We then see a car stopped at another location with the driver, Joseph (William LaValley) listening to police radio. One man, Barry (James Belushi) tries to figure out the wires for a complicated security system while Frank is inside a building using a massive drill press to get into a safe. Having drilled a large whole into the safe, he is able to get to the gears and opens it. He empties the safe, discarding many valuable items, until finding the boxes he came for. Frank then talks into his walkie talkie and asks "Are we clear?" The driver listening to radio and Barry both respond that they are. They drop the gear in the trunk of the car before Frank and Barry head to Frank's car, which they park at a warehouse, and pick up their own vehicles to drive away.

The next day, we see Frank walking through a car lot. he gives the salesman instructions on placement of the vehicles. He asks his receptionist to get ahold of Barry on the phone he tells Barry to pick up some titles in his name, as he'll be in a meeting with "the man." We then see Frank at a Diner with another man, his fence, Joe Gags (Hal Frank) who is inspecting the the packages that Frank stole the previous night. We see that the items are diamonds. The man offers him $185,000.00 for the lot and says "I'll take it myself." He then adds "Have someone swing around tomorrow morning. These people wanna meet ya." Frank isn't pleased with the idea and responds " I wanna meet people, I'll go to a fucking country club."
Fence: Ok, ok. By the way, you want me to put some of your end out on the street?
Frank: Barry will collect it. You down the bread to him at 3:00.
Fence: You'll double your money in three months.
Frank: My money goes in the bank. You put your money across the street.
The fence offers to pick up the breakfast check but Frank tells him to forget it. On the way out, Frank asks the hostess if they're having dinner that night. She smiles and agrees and Frank compliments her sweater and tells her he'll come by at eight. Frank heads back to the car dealership and catches up on his messages and mail. He gets a letter from his friend Okla, who is in prison, asking him to come visit. Frank seems bothered by the phrase "gotta see ya."

Frank stops at a bar, and the bartender tells him that Barry has called several times. He gives Frank the number and Frank calls it. He reaches Barry who is waiting in a pay phone.
Barry: Where you been?
Frank: You make the pick up? what's the problem?
Barry: I'm in a phone booth. Trying to find one that works. I have not made the pick up. We got a problem. Can you talk?
Frank: No. You see our man?
Barry: No, because there was no man. Gags took a walk through a 12th story window. He's splattered all over the sidewalk. What do you wanna do?
Frank: Did he down our merch? Was he goin'? Did he carry the cash on him? What?
Barry: I'm talking to somebody somebody. We'll know in about 25 minutes.
Frank: You get the work car and you meet me at Armitage and Lincoln.
They hang up and then meet. Barry tells Frank "On the side, Gags was laying down juice loans on the street for this Attaglia. He's turning in the vig money, but he's putting in his pocket, the principle.They found out he was screwing them over, they went crazy, ba-boom.
Frank: Gags down our merch?
Barry: Yeah, at the RD Lounge. Paulie saw it go down. It was your money that was in Gags pocket when he went out the window.
Frank pulls a gun from the glovebox, tucks it into his pants and tells Barry to keep the car running. They're stopped in front of a plating company. Frank walks in and asks to see Mr. Attaglia about a plating order. Frank takes one of the chairs in Attaglia's office and picks it up moving it from facing the desk to a spot right next to it. The man says "I'm Mr. Attaglia. You didn't get a delivery or somethin'? Zinc? What?
Frank: My name is Frank, and that was bullshit.
Attaglia: What is this?
Frank: "This" is Joe Gags. 185,000.00 of my money. We have this problem.
Attaglia: What problem? What are you talking about?
Frank: He was moving my merchandise. So the money in his pocket, when he went out the window is my money.
Attaglia: This is a plating company. Why are you telling me this shit?
Frank: Shit? I want my money.
Attaglia: I don't know what you're talking about. Mr. Frank La la, whatever. Did some guy die?
Frank: Yes.
Attaglia: The estate goes to probate. Take it to probate court. Why do you bug me?
Frank: I come here to discuss a piece of business with you, and what are you gonna do? You gonna tell me fairy tales?
Attaglia: Hey who the fuck are you slick? Somebody knows you? Are you crazy or what? I don't know you. I don't know some clown named Gags. Get outta here. Carl! [calling security] Go ahead, get the fuck outta here!
Security enters and Frank pulls out his gun and holds it on Attaglia, who tells his men to do what he says. Frank tells the men to spread there legs and lay on the floor.. He then tells Attaglia, "I am the last guy in the world that you want to fuck with. You found my money on Gags. Let us pretend that you don't know whose money it is."
Attaglia again says he doesn't know who Frank is. Frank tells him they will set up a meet in three hours to give him back his money and exits the office. He alarms the office staff leaving with his gun.

Frank gets to prison to meet with Okla (Willie Nelson) The two seem very happy to see each other. Frank tells Okla "It's really fucking weird out there. It's nothing like we figured out." Okla fills him in on the prison life, mentioning lots of "knifings." Okla laments that rapists and child molesters are getting along fine in the main prison population. He asks Frank "How's the wife?"
Frank: There's nothing with the wife. I pulled the plug.
Okla: What happened?
Frank: She doesn't know I'm putting down scores and the rocket scientist that she is, she figures out that I am having affairs with fancy ladies. Anyway, it gets all screwy and twisted.
Okla: What are you gonna do?
Frank: I'm gonna put it all back together. Look I met this new chick, this Jessie.
Okla: You gonna marry her and have some kids?
Frank: Yes. But, she does not know what I do. So what, do I bullshit her along or what?
Okla: Lie to no one. If they're somebody close to you, you're going to ruin it with a lie. If they're a stranger, who the fuck are they you gotta lie to them?
Frank: Hey, what do you need, man?
Okla: Get me out of here.
Frank: Ten months and you're on the street.
Okla: You know Doc Shelton?
Frank: Yeah, that bastards's killed more guys than the electric chair.
Okla: Well, I've got angina somethin' somethin' somethin'. And, I'm not gonna last ten months. And, I don't wanna die in here Frank, not in here.
Frank nods and says "You got it."

We then see Attaglia with two other men on the street waiting for Frank. They discuss "whacking him out." as he pulls up and approaches them. One of the men introduces himself as Leo (Robert Prosky) and hands Frank a package. He asks Frank "Is it all there?" Franks says "I'm sure that it is." We see that the meeting is under surveillance.Leo asks "Don't you say thanks or something?" Frank asks him in return "whose money is this?" Leo says "Yours, but I stopped this guy fro giving you a hard time." [nods towards Attaglia] Frank says "thanks." We see that Barry is watching the meet from a little ways off with a rifle. Leo suggests they go somewhere and talk a little business. Frank advises him to "join a lonely hearts club." but Leo says "I know you already."
Frank: Yeah? How you know me?
Leo: That merch you put down to Gags. Max sherman. Puerto Rican fence, Cotazar. Where do you think they down it? To me. I'm the bank, I handle the fence for half the city. You been outting down two -three scores a month, month in, month out. I see your stuff. You got great taste. A regular highline pro. So I said to Gags, "I wanna meet this guy." He tell you that?
Frank: Yes.
Leo: Fine.
Frank: Let's cut the bullshit.
The surveillance team discusses Frank as they don't know who he is.
Leo: You want to put down contract scores all over the country, working directly for me?
Frank: I am self employed. I am doing fine. I don't deal with egos. I am Joe, the boss of my own body, so why the fuck do I have to work for you?
Leo: Maybe you don't. I'll lay it out and you can be the judge. You don't look. You don't case. You don't do nothin'. We point you to a score. When we say it's there, it's there. They're all laid out scores.
Frank: How they worked up?
Leo: Alarm system diagrams, blueprints, front door key. Sometimes the scores are in on it, ripping off the insurance company.
Frank: Work cars? Drops? Tools?
Leo: Whatever you need, you'd see me. I'd be your father. Money, guns, cars. I'd be your father from here on.
Frank: What's my end?
Leo: You get a price. No negotiation. We got expenses you don't have. But, you'll know the price upfront.
Frank: How big?
Leo: Box car. Nothing under six figures. I'll make you a millionaire.
Frank: I go to work for you, I'm pulling a lot of exposure.
Leo: Our protection trades that off.
Frank: Take a bust?
Leo: There's gonna be a lawyer and bondsman right there. You never spend a night in jail.
Frank: I steal ice. No furs, no coin collections, no stock certificates, no treasury bonds, just diamonds or cash.
Leo: Fine.
Frank: No cowboy shit, no home invasions. I work with a partner.
Leo: We take care of you. Your partner is strictly your responsibility. he beefs on you, that's your problem, he beefs on us that's your problem too.
Frank: Who are your inside people?
Leo: That's my end. You don't have to know. So, what do you say Frank?
Frank: I don't know.
Leo: What do you mean, you don't know.
Frank: I don't know! I don't believe in lifetime subscriptions. Maybe it don't fit in with my retirement.
Leo: What will you do retired?
Frank: Pick corn with the chickens, watch TV for the rest of my life, what the hell's the difference?
Leo: All right, all right. Two -three moves, you wanna keep going, that's fine. You wanna split, that's fine too. Everybody's businesslike. Everybody's an adult. So let me know. Cause, we'd be terrific.
Frank: Yeah, that's fine. I'll call ya.

Frank drives away. We see a nightclub, where the woman from the Diner, Jessie (Tuesday Weld) stands by herself, and seems to be having trouble staying awake. Frank shows up  and Jessie is angry that he's two hours late. One of the bar patrons approaches Frank, but he waves him away flashing the gun in his belt. Frank insists that she let him explain and he finally gets her to his car. Frank asks her what she thinks he does, pointing out all the money he obviously spends. He reveals to her that he's a thief and he's been in prison. He exclaims "Let's cut the mini moves and the bullshit and get on with this big romance." She's still angry with him but continues discussing the matter. They go get a cup of coffee and she tells him a little about herself. She describes her life as "very boring, which is good, because it's solid." She tells him she had a relationship with a drug dealer, which ended badly, and her ex is now dead. She asks more about prison and he tells her about it, saying he got out four years ago.
Jessie: What's you go up for?
Frank: I stole forty dollars.
Jessie: Forty dollars?
Frank: Yeah, it started with a two year bit. Parole in six months. Right away, I got into this problem with these two guys. They tried to turn me out. So, I picked up nine more on a manslaughter beef, some other things. I was twenty when I went in, 31 when I came out. You don't count months and years, you don't do time that way.
Jessie: What do you mean? Why?
Frank: You gotta forget time. You gotta not give a fuck if you live or die. You gotta get to where nothin' means nothin'. [Jessie nods] I'll tell you a story all about it. Once there was this Captain Morphis. This 300 lb. slob, he couldn't write his name. He had this crew of 16 - 17 guards and cons....they would go into these cells and grab these young guys and bring em up to hydrotherapy in the mental ward. Gangbang. If a guy puts up a struggle, they beat him half to death, he winds up in the funny farm. Anyway, word comes down that I am next and I do not know what I am supposed to do. I am scared. 12:00, lights come on, I got this pipe from plumbing. I whacked the first guard in the shins. I go through a convict and another convict, and anyway, I get to Morphis and I whack hi across the head twice. Boom. ANd then they jump all over me, do a bunch of things. I spent six months in the hospital ward, but...Morphis, he is also fucked up, good, cerebral hematoma, they pension him out, he can't walk straight, and he dies two years later, which is a real loss to the planet earth. Meanwhile, I gotta go back into the mainstream population. And, I know the minute I hit the yard, I am a dead man. So I hit the yard. You know what happens? Nothin'. I mean, nothin' happens. Cause I don't mean nothin' to myself. I don't care about me. I don't care about nothin', you know? Then, I know from that day, that I survive because I achieved that mental attitude.Then, see, later, I worked this out. [hands Jessie a picture, which is a collage of a house, a car, kids, and Okla.]
He tells her that the picture is his life and nothing can stop him from making it happen. She asks about Okla, and he tells her "That is David Okla Bertinelli, he's a master thief and a great man." He credits Okla with teaching him everything he knows. Jessie still seems hesitant at how unstable and risky his life is. She explains that she can't be with him since she can't have children. He quickly suggests they adopt. She finally agrees and offers her hand.

We see Frank at a payphone calling Leo. He tells him, "You're on, 1 -2 big scores. They gotta be big, they gotta be fast." The next day, we find Frank and Barry, with Leo and one of his men on the roof of a tall office building, discussing plans for the next heist. They will have to deal with six independent alarm systems as well as a "Richmond Lackett" safe (which Frank isn't thrilled about) Leo tells him his end (830,000.00) should cover the risk. Leo also reveals that they haven't been able to find the fifth alarm, although they know it's there. Frank says the job will take 4 - 8 weeks.

Later, Frank shows Jessie the house he just bought for them. She loves it. Frank stops by a junkyard to ask an old friend, Sam (who's also involved in metallurgy) for a favor to break into the Ricmond Lackett safe. Sam tells him he can build something but it'll need to heat up to 7-8,000 degrees to cut into the safe. He also tells Sam that he has a hearing set up for Okla. Sam tells him to give him a week for testing.

Okla has his hearing, and the judge agrees to a writ of habeas corpus, due to Okla's good behavior and his condition (and a discreet pay off.)  Barry and his girlfriend, Marie, stop by to see Frank's house. Barry tells him that he made the fifth alarm. Frank tells Barry he's out after this job, and Barry just asks "You happy?" before they go in for dinner.

Frank and Jessie visit an adoption agency, where they have problems, due to Frank's prison time. The woman at the agency informs him "We have more applicants than we have children." and Frank asks "Then why do you still have kids here?" She explains that he is less desirable than other applicants. Frank gets angry. He tells her "I was state raised. This is a dead place. A child in eight by four green walls. After a while, you tell the walls, "My life is yours."" He finally leaves however, due to Jessie's requests.

The next day, we see the cops pull Frank over. The cop that comes up to the window says "A very important thing for you to remember is gonna be my name, Sgt. Urizzi (John Santucci)"
Frank: Why's that?
Urizzi: Because, I'm gonna do good things for you.
Frank: What for? Good conduct medal?
Urizzi: I'm here to make life easy for you. Smooth out the bumps and the humps. You know? Your relationship with us.
Frank: I didn't know I had one.
Urizzi: Look, we're your new partners. We're in for ten points. What'd this set you back? [points to car]
Frank: Ten points of what?
Urizzi: You know. The guy? Leo. Your action. I don't get this. What's with you? Listen. Our end goes with the territory. Don't you know you gotta come up?
Frank: I'm a car salesman. You guys want a deal on a Buick? Come on.
Frank finally tells Urizzi to arrest him or get the fuck off his car.
At home with Jessie, Frank checks his phone and finds a bug. He talk it over with her over the water running and she assures him she's ok.
Frank meets with Leo and Leo pitches Frank the idea to put some of his cut into shopping centers. Frank declines, saying his money goes in his pocket. Frank asks Leo about all the police activity since they joined up. Leo assures him he'll take care of it. Leo asks him about his adoption troubles. Leo says he heard it from one of his guys who heard it from Barry. Leo tells him he should've come to him about it and offers to set something up and get him a kid from some women who sell their own babies. Frank is overjoyed at the idea. and calls Jessie to tell her about it. She tells him that Okla is in the hospital and they go visit him. Okla can't move, but he shows Jessie to him. Okla whispers to him and then his machines beep, getting the doctors to rush in. Jessie asks what he whispered and Frank says he told him thanks for getting him out.Minutes later, they're told that Okla didn't make it.

Frank and Jessie go out for dinner with their new baby boy.  Jessie suggests that they name the baby after Okla, whose real name was David, and Frank likes the idea.

Frank goes to Sam's place to test the torch and is happy with the results. We see Barry outside the building they're to rob with a walkie talkie, listening for the password for the fifth alarm. He hears "Mexico." and leaves. Barry calls the bar and lets Frank know. Driving off, Frank is pulled over by Urizzi again, who approaches the car with a shotgun and accuses him of driving without a taillight before kicking his taillight out. They bring him to the station and start beating on him. Urizzi's partner lectures Frank about being a "stiff prick." and Frank suggests they work for a living. When Frank won't bend they let him go although they keep following him. Frank loses them by switching cars and they get to work on their job.

They cut a hole in the roof over an elevator shaft and find wires inside for deactivating the alarm systems, leaving only the last alarm system with the password. Frank gets to the vault and they bring in the torch, using it to cut a new door right through the vault.  The plan succeeds and Frank pulls up a chair and has a smoke, while Barry empties the vault of the diamonds. We then see Frank walking the beach with Jessie and David along with Barry and Marie. Barry and Frank discuss collecting their pay when they go home.

The next day, we see Frank visit Leo. Leo laughs and compliments him on his performance, then hands him an envelope, and we see that Frank isn't happy. He asks "Where's the rest?" Leo tells him not to worry about it.
Frank: What is this?
Leo: This is the cash part.
Frank: Well. you're light. $830,000.00 is supposed to be here and I count, what, 70, 80, 90.
Leo: That's because I put you into the Jacksonville, Fort Worth and Davenport shopping centers. I take care of my people. You can ask these guys. Papers are at your house. It's a limited partnership with a subchapter S corporation. You've got equity with me in that.
Frank: Well, count me out.
Leo: I thought we had this good thing. Plus, we've got a major score in Palm Beach for you in six weeks.
Frank: [looks around] You talking to me or somebody else walk in this room?
Leo: What's that supposed to mean?
Frank: It means you are dreaming. This is payday. It is over.
Leo: When you have trouble with the cops, you pay em off like everybody else because that's the way things are done. But, not you, huh?
Frank: No. They don't run me and you don't run me.
Leo: I give you houses, I give you a car, you're family. I thought you'd come around. What the hell is this? Where is gratitude?
Frank: Where is my end?
Leo: You can't see day for night.
Frank: I can see my money is still in your pocket, which is from the yield of my labor. What gratitude? You're making big profits from my work, my sweat. But that is okay because I elected to make that deal. But now the deal is over. I want my end, and I am out.
Leo: Why don't you join a labor union?
Frank: I am wearing it. [Leo's men get up to caution him]
Leo: Do it, slick.
Frank: My money in 24 hours or you will wear your ass for a hat.

Frank leaves and we see Barry getting worked over by men asking where Frank is. Frank goes to his car lot and has a look around. He yells for Barry. One of Leo's men, Carl (Dennis Farina) tells Barry to answer him . Barry yells to Frank that he's been set up, and we see Leo's men shoot Barry dead. They grab Frank and bring him to the plating company. Leo tells Frank to look at him, and tells him what happened to Barry was due to him "going against the way things go down." He adds "You're scary because you don't give a fuck. But you are not that guy. You've got a home, a car, businesses, family. And I own the paper on your whole fucking life. I'll put your cunt wife in the street to be fucked by niggers and Puerto Ricans. Your kid's mine because I bought it. You got him on loan. He is leased. You are renting him. I'll whack out your whole family. People'll be eating them for lunch tomorrow in their Wimpy burgers and not even know it. You get paid what I say. You do what I say. I run you. There is no discussion. I want your work until you are burned out, you are busted or you are dead."

Leo tells them to get Frank out of there, and before leaving they dump Barry's body in the plating tanks. Back at home, Frank looks at himself in the mirror. He makes a call to his friend Joseph and tells him "you're going on a trip." He then tells Jessie, who's asleep in bed, the same thing, telling her she needs to leave immediately. He gives her 400,000.00 and tells her to work out where she's going with Joseph, and to pay him 25,000.00 a month to stay with them. She protests, saying she loves him and they have a commitment. He tells her "To hell with me, with you, with everything. I'm throwing you out." He yells at her to get out and she finally leaves with David. Joseph gets them in the car and drives away, while Frank sits out in his yard. He loads some things in his car and drives away. Moments later we see his house explode. He makes his way to his bar and steps inside for a moment. He drives away and we see the bar blow up just afterwards.  Next we see he's lit all of the cars at his dealership on fire. He tosses away the collage that represented his life. We next see him picking a lock and sneaking into Leo's house, where Leo and Attaglia sit in the living room. Frank hits Attaglia with the refrigerator door while he's getting some milk and then knocks him out. He looks in the living room but Leo is no longer there. We see that Leo is in another room and has found his gun, while Frank searches. Frank kills Leo as Leo attempts to fire at him.  He then shoots Carl who comes out of the bushes firing and Attaglia as he fires from the street. Carl manages to shoot Frank, knocking him over, but Frank shoots him again from the ground, killing him. Frank checks his wounds, gets up, and starts walking down the street.