Frank's Faves: Movies where the bad guy (or girl) walks away

Frank's Faves: Movies where the bad guy (or girl) walks away

"I must have killed a lot of cows in a past life for Karma to hate me this much." — Katie McGarry

I'm sure I must have mentioned this a time or two before, but it seems life never fails to remind me on a regular basis that the strangest things can inspire a faves list at almost any moment.

This week's case in point: I've developed a routine over the past couple of years of walking to the local post office to check our box first thing every morning six days a week. I've found it a good exercise in stretching my legs and clearing out the mental cobwebs, but it also exposes me to the occasional oddity I might otherwise miss.

Like the frog I came upon the other day, spread eagle on the sidewalk and completely motionless. It stayed that way when I walked up beside it and set my left shoe down an inch from its webbed toes. But the small cloud of flies covering it like a second skin rose at my footfall and flurried around furiously at my having interrupted their feast.

Yeah, I know, maybe not the most appetizing visual image to share, but instead of revolting me, it planted a single thought in my somewhat-wide-open early-morning brain: Yup, that's karma.

Frogs eat flies while they're alive. Flies eat frogs when they're dead. Circle of life? Sure, but to a fly, it has to seem like justice — which is, truth be told, something of a rarity in the natural world.

Which is probably another reason why we like movies so much. We love poetic justice. We love it when karma bites the big jerk in the tush or leaves the judgmental hypocrite totally exposed and humiliated by the closing credits. There's nothing more satisfying than when the underdog triumphs, the meek inherit the earth and the villain gets what's coming to him or her in the final frame.

Is that at all a reflection of real life? Probably not, but who cares? We get smacked in the chops with reality's version of fair every day; we expect our movies to fulfill our fantasies of escape, to give us the happy ending that so often eludes us in real life.

Well, most of the time. But often the movies that hit us the hardest, that leave the biggest impression, are those that let in a sliver of real life through a crack in the grand illusion. Those that don't bring the hero and heroine together at the end, where no one gets to ride off into the sunset and — worst of all — the bad guy walks away.

All of which is by way of illustrating how the strangest thing can result in a faves list, hopefully in such a way that you, dear reader, won't be completely disheartened nor plot my comeuppance when I spoil the following five movies for you by counting them:


— "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991). Not only does Anthony Hopkins walk away with an Oscar for his villainous role as serial killer Hannibal (the Cannibal) Lecter, but he also gets to walk away at the movie's end with one of the greatest exit lines ever. Wrapping up his phone call with FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), Lecter sets his sights on the prison psychologist who tormented him during his incarceration, while tipping off his return to form with a chilling farewell: "I do wish we could chat longer, but I'm having an old friend for dinner. Bye." Don't forget to pick up some fava beans and a nice Chianti ...

— "No Country for Old Men" (2007). Javier Bardem plays another Oscar-winning villain as Anton Chigurh, the hitman with the bad haircut and the captive bolt stunner who decides his victims' fate with the toss of a coin. He's more force of nature than criminal genius, relentlessly dispatching bounty hunters, police and innocent bystanders with equal indifference. So when he's blindsided in an intersection by another car while leaving what appears to be his last murder scene, it seems like karma has claimed yet another deserving wretch. But no. Chigurh bribes a couple witnesses to forget him, then exits, wounded but very much alive, thus personifying the film's depressing theme: Evil like him can't be stopped.

— "Fallen" (1998). Denzel Washington is a Philadelphia cop on the trail of what turns out to be a demon. He devises a pretty good plan for foiling it, and actually seems to have succeeded — until we realize Denzel's voiceover as narrator is not as the Philadelphia cop, but as the demon. Or maybe the darn cat. Or both.

— "Body Heat" (1981). Kathleen Turner looks almost wistful in the final scene of this neo-noir suspense thriller. After all, she's gotten away with a couple murders and her late husband's fortune, and pinned the wrap on her duplicitous lover, William Hurt. He's in a prison cell, thinking of her. She's on a tropical beach, thinking of him. Then she puts on the wicked shades and leans back in her lounge chair. Yeah, she's so sorry.

— "Halloween" (1978). This one is the exception to the whole genre of slasher films in which the villain gets away because he is literally a monster, so can't possibly be killed. Director John Carpenter's original horror classic simultaneously defied that convention and created it by giving us, at least initially, an entirely mortal Michael Myers, whose descent into homocidal mania we observe from childhood, yet who still scares the bejeebies out of us in the final shot by vanishing from the crime scene when he should be dead.

BONUS FIVE: "The Usual Suspects" (1995); "Basic Instinct" (1992); "Mr. Brooks" (2007); "Chinatown" (1974); and "Saw" (2004).

Topics (1):Film