Urbandictionary.com defines anti-hero as: ‘a flawed hero, and therefore, much more interesting then the more traditional hero. They can be on the side of good, but with a tragic flaw, or a horrible past, or for reasons that are selfish and not entirely “pure”. They can also work for the side of evil, but with hidden noble intentions, or other underlying complexities. These darker heroes can be jerks, pathetic, hard, jaded, or mean. However, all anti-heros must have enough heroic qualities, intentions, and/or strength to somehow gain the sympathy of the audience.’
Here’s an example of how current and impactful the influence of the anti-hero is. Part of the problem that Warner Bros. has had in relaunching the Superman franchise is due in large part to the dominance of the anti-hero in comic books. Batman’s dark, brooding fractured but noble psyche is more compelling than the Man of Steel’s sunny, largely untarnished disposition. It’s not an accident that the architect of the successful ‘Man of Steel’ relaunch is the man who got Batman right, director Christopher Nolan.
However, some would argue (and I’m one of them) that MoS misfired a bit by making Superman as depressed as the Dark Knight. That’s not who Superman is. While they may not be as popular as the anti-hero, the hopeful, shining hero is what most anti-heroes secretly aspire to, and their lack of success can tend to color their view of the world. We need both to exist in order for both to remain relevant.
The anti-hero garners so much attention (and even love) because he (or she) can be bigger, bolder and harder than we can (usually) be in real life. The anti-hero is colorful, often exists with his own code of honor that signifies independent, free thinking, which is attractive in a society where that concept is often frowned on. And most of all, a great anti-hero is loads of fun, as exemplified by Eddie Murphy as Reggie Hammond in the film that made him a star, ‘48Hrs‘.
(Reggie Hammond, the anti-hero that made Eddie Murphy a star in ’48 Hrs.’)The anti-hero has continual presence and influence across all forms of entertainment. From books (reluctant assassin John Rain in ‘Hard Rain’) to television (‘Tony Soprano’, ‘Tommy Gavin’, ‘Al Swearengen’, even ‘The Fonz’; the list is endless) and of course, motion pictures. Some of our best actors broke out playing these memorable characters, and in some cases have built entire careers around the subgenre. When you look at some of our most popular action films, a great anti-hero usually isn’t far away. Below is a sampling of some of my favorite anti-heroes in no particular order. More to come.
James Caan was a working actor for many years, even co-starring as a young fella with John Wayne in Rio Conchos! But he finally cut through as the hot headed mafioso Sonny Corleone in The Godfather. Caan quickly established himself as a tough guy who could also act. In 1981, he partnered with director Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral) in Thief. Caan starred as Frank, an ex-con doing high end jewel heists, out of course, for one last score. Caan’s Frank, is tough, edgy and sympathetic, resulting in one of the heist genre’s true gems (pardon the pun).
Val Kilmer is one of those guys who should have been a massive star. Exceedingly good looking, with substantial acting chops and an ability to find the quirkiness in every character, stardom should have been his. Unfortunately, unpredictability and an often questionable attitude kept him from fulfilling his potential. Thankfully, before he ran off the runway, he starred as the charming, funny and dangerous John ‘Doc’ Holiday, in one of the best westerns of the last thirty years, Tombstone. When you hear about actors stealing scenes from other actors, Kilmer’s performance is a textbook example. Every time he’s on screen, he owns it, as this example illustrates.
While detective John Shaft is on the side of the law, he qualifies as an anti-hero because he was constantly going up against the establishment, daring to be his own man and follow his own code of honor, regardless of what anyone said or thought. Richard Roundtree’s breakout performance in Shaft still informs many of today’s young black actors, though most don’t have the weight that Roundtree brought to the role. To illustrate that point, watch the clip below and think of what young black thespian could spend the first four minutes of a film just walking the streets of New York and hold your rapt attention.
Michael Caine is largely known these days as a fine character actor. But in the sixties and seventies, Caine was one of the biggest stars in the world, starring in iconic comedies like ‘Alfie’, dramas like ‘Zulu’ and thrillers like ‘The Ipcress File’. In the midst of his peak, Caine starred as a cold blooded hit man who goes back to his hometown to seek revenge for the murder of his brother in Get Carter. Caine’s icy, reptilian glare, tailored suits and loaded shot gun confirmed that he was the right man for the job.
And what consideration of the anti-hero would be complete without saying hello to everyone’s little friend, Tony Montana, in Scarface. Al Pacino had seemingly made a career of iconic performances in Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon and of course, The Godfather saga. But arguably his most famous and influential role is as the underdog Cuban who becomes a vicious Miami druglord, ultimately brought down by his own hubris. Pacino’s Montana is like a pitbull, barely restrained on a leash. He’s crude, disrespectful, ignorant and canny, all at the same time. It should be impossible to root for him or feel any sympathy towards him, but Pacino cuts through all resistance. An operatic acting performance if ever there was one, Scarface endures.
I’ve got a list of another 30-40 anti-heroes that I’ll be posting from time to time. If you’d like to add to the list, just drop a line.
- See more at: http://www.tallguysgearguide.com/#sthash.nIJyeNxQ.dpuf