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The early 21st century was a dark time for America. The traumatic fallout from 9/11 was immense, worsening a recession and starting multiple, seemingly unwinnable military conflicts. This was a pain shared across the globe, with terrorism creating a suffocating atmosphere of panic and anger.
This sense of dread from such a horrific attack overshadowed the fact that statistically Americans were safer than ever, with violent crime rates dropping dramatically from prior decades (for a variety of still debated factors).
So even while audience escaped the millennial blues though big budget films like ‘Spiderman,’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, the crime film still proved a vibrant captivating genre, offering gritty mature filmmaking that mirrored the decades’ world-weary cynicism and disillusionment.
So let’s look at some notable yet often overlooked good crime movies from 2000-2005.
I’m sorry… You look so familiar. Haven’t we met before, somewhere?
Filmmaker Brian De Palma (‘Carrie,’ ‘The Untouchables’) has a spotty 21st century filmography, but ‘Femme Fatale’ was far better than its poor reviews and weak box office would lead you to believe.
In truth, it’s a riveting suspense film starring Rebecca Romijn as Laurie, a jewel thief on the lam from both the law, and her jilted former crime partners.
When she discovers Lily, a woman who could be her doppelganger (also played by Romijn), she sees a possibility to assume a new identity.
But a pursuing paparazzo (Antonio Banderas) knows the truth, and threatens to jeopardize her plans, even as a romantic tension brews between them.
‘Femme Fatale’ is full of several shocking twists, and a theme of duality that has reverberated throughout De Palma’s career, thanks to influences like Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo.’
It’s slowly getting a much-needed critical reappraisal, which hopefully will give it a second cinematic wind as a cult classic.
For some people, money is… money is a foreign film without subtitles…
Ridley Scott is a director known so much for visual spectacle (‘Alien’, ‘Blade Runner,’ ‘Gladiator’) that his attempts at smaller scale stories get short shrift.
Such is the case for this engaging dark comedy starring Nicolas Cage as Roy, a con artist suffering from OCD, whose life changes after meeting Angela (Alison Lohman), who claims to be his teenage daughter from a previous marriage.
Angela’s presence reinvigorates Roy, but he has mixed emotions when she wants to join in his criminal escapades alongside him and his criminal partner Frank (Sam Rockwell).
This leads Roy to question if it’s time to abandon his con artist lifestyle while battling his inner demons, resulting in a twist ending that will change his life forever.
If you go fast enough, you can’t see where you’ve come from…
This bizarre true-life tale is based on the crimes of Captain André Stander (played by Thomas Jane), a disillusioned 1970’s South African police officer who brazenly investigated bank robberies that he actually committed himself.
This high-risk behavior leads to imprisonment, followed by a jailbreak; with Stander and his criminal gang continually upping the ante in their criminal enterprises, seemingly fearless of the consequences.
Jane is magnetic in the title role as an adrenaline junkie continually battling his self-destructive urges.
Given this captivating story isn’t well known outside of South Africa, ‘Stander’ is a must-see film for the uninitiated crime film fanatic.
Look, there’s no “whatever”s with this one. You’re either with me or against me. There’s no third position…
Ed Burns stars as Jake Vig, an expert grafter who accidentally spurs the wrath of crime boss The King (Dustin Hoffman).
But he’s given an out: con a rich banker (Robert Forster) and fork over the loot. To do so he gathers his expert team (including Rachel Weisz and Paul Giamatti) to set up the ultimate con game.
But things get complicated thanks to Gunther Butan (Andy Garcia) a Special Agent intent on busting Vig. In the end, nothing is quite as it seems, leading to multiple double crosses and a novel twist.
‘Confidence’s’ non-linear narrative and snappy dialogue is clearly indebted to the stylings of Tarantino, but it stands on its own merits. It’s a fun heist film that keeps your interest from start to finish.
Five people are dead Sharon, they were murdered, up on Wonderland…
‘Wonderland’ is a true-crime drama starring Val Kilmer as adult film star John Holmes. But the movie isn’t concerned with his salacious life behind the camera.
It shows Homes in his decline, a down on his luck drug addict turning to prostitution to make ends meet.
Living a fractured life between his estranged wife (Lisa Kudrow) and his teenage mistress (Kate Bosworth), Holmes downward spiral leads him to “The Wonderland Gang,” a group of drug dealers who conspire to rip off gangster Eddie Nash (Eric Bogosian).
But the heist goes badly, resulting in one of the most infamous murders in Los Angeles history (which would also inspire Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Boogie Nights.’)
But the question remains: why did Holmes survive, and what part did he truly play?
‘Wonderland’ rips right into Hollywood’s seedy underbelly, with Kilmer giving one of his most vulnerable performances. The plot may provide more questions than answers, but it’s a riveting experience nonetheless.
By mid-decade, the world remained a polarized and fragile place: in 2003 the Abu Ghraib prison controversy showed a breakdown in U.S. military leadership. That same year marked the beginning of the War in Darfur, Sudan, one of the worst humanitarian crises in world history.
And the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster shined a dark light on how government bureaucracy failed American citizens in a time of need.
And while the second half of the decade offered glimmers of hope, incidents like the Wall Street crash of 2007 and a rise in mass shootings would provide even more fodder for crime films, which I’ll explore in a future installment.
But now I turn it over to you: what good crime movies from 200-2005 do you feel deserve more acclaim? Tell me in the comments. And be sure to check out my lists of good crime films from 1980-1985, 1985-1990, 1990-1995, and 1995-2000.
I’ve included other notable 21st century crime movies in the honorable mention section below.
Honorable Mentions: ‘Layer Cake,’ ‘Road to Perdition,’ ‘Dark Blue’, ‘The Score’, ‘Traffic’, ‘Training Day’, ‘Blow’, ‘Ocean’s 11’, ‘Memento,’ ‘Bully’, ‘Catch Me If You Can’, ‘25th Hour’, ‘City of God’, ‘Narc’, ‘Kill Bill Volume I and II’, ‘Mystic River,’ ‘Monster’, ‘Collateral.’