14. Traffic (2000)
Never has the war on drugs been portrayed with such brutal truth on all cinematic levels with such expert delivery from every member of an ensemble cast as Steven Soderbergh depicts in his masterpiece Traffic.
The film dissects the impact of drug culture ranging from addicts, dealers, manufacturers, traffickers alongside the politicians and law enforcement agencies trying to end the flow of drugs worldwide. All of the characters are intertwined within the same disturbing web through the war on drugs without being aware of it in a visual journey around the dramatic equivalent to butterflies and hurricanes.
Not only does every character affect the others while being totally oblivious to it, ultimately the film reveals the depth of the devastating impact drug culture has on America. Each character has their own expertly executed story arc that weaves itself within an evil web of addiction, betrayal, redemption and deep-seeded corruption.
Prepare yourself for jaw dropping dramatic performances that will leave you speechless after witnessing this enthralling tale of how deep drugs run through every level of American life whether you know it or not.
13. Infernal Affairs (2002)
The incredibly thrilling concept within this crime drama not only inspired “The Departed” but it set the bar for Hong Kong cop movies for decades to come. Here is a film whose success should not be measured by how much it took in at the box office or how many sales records it broke.
This is a film that should have its success measured in its incredible influence on crime films worldwide and the future filmmakers it will inspire with its greatness. The concept alone is worthy enough to make it easy to see how the story has enough gas in its tank to create an entire trilogy.
The plot chronicles a Hong Kong detective as he infiltrates an infamous Triad organization that is leading the pack in the criminal economy. All the while there’s a Triad spy buried deep within the top investigative unit of the Hong Kong Police force secretly working for the same mob boss that is being spied on.
Whether it’s the political debates over how each level of corruption functions, in this elaborate game of cat and mouse, it’s almost impossible to see who is really on anyone’s side other than their own. Between the intricately dense storyline, the searing performances and witnessing the inner workings of Hong Kong’s most notorious gangland organizations, prepare for a uniquely thrilling cinematic experience unlike anything else.
12. Rise of the Foot Soldier (2007)
This harrowing tale of one young soccer hooligans rising through the hierarchy of one of the most bloodthirsty firms the streets of England have ever seen. This film tells the real life story of Carlton Leach, who went from being a soccer hooligan, to a lethal gang enforcer to an international drug dealer and mob boss.
The film essentially serves as the British equivalent to Goodfellas in the sense that it takes the audience into the underground world and inside the violent subculture of English organized crime. It starts with the ferocious soccer riots into the 70’s to the rise of rave culture and the explosion of ecstasy along with the drug war that fuelled it.
Between Leach creating a reputation for himself as one of the most deadly English criminals put on film, the movie manages to balance his professional vendetta with his personal life while he fights his way to the top of this deadly food chain filled with psychotic hit men, deadly drug cartels and a decade long battle with the Turkish Mafia. Prepare yourself for one of the grittiest and trigger happy crime films of a lifetime England has ever produced.
11. Eastern Promises (2007)
Legendary director David Cronenberg reinvented himself in a dark light by adapting the graphic novel A History of Violence but it was his electrifying follow up with Eastern Promises that breathed new life into his career.
Eastern Promises delivers the icy tale of a nurse that delivers a baby from a dying teenage prostitute working for the Russian Mafia in a chilling story of murder and survival where nothing is what it seems. Viggo Mortensen gives a stunning performance by portraying Nikolai, a soldier within the lethal Vory V Zakone (translates to Thieves in Law), which are one of the most vicious crime syndicates the planet has ever seen.
Stephen Knight penned a script that contains an incredible eye for detail including the codes the Russian Mob tattoo on each other as an unspoken language to the dynamic dialogue of each character from a different background. Cronenberg masterfully employs his cryptic vision to visualize the textures of the terrifying violence these gangsters are accustomed to but also captures the emotionally charged passion of everyone within the story.
10. Mesrine Pt.1: Killer Instinct (2008)
This film is the rise of a French legend ingrained with an irresistible emotional depth that is rarely brought to the crime genre that has the audience in its grips from the beginning.
The film tells the intoxicating story of Jaques Mesrine as a soldier in the French Army that is forever changed after returning to civilian life to rule a criminal enterprise the world had never seen. Mesrine begins working a legitimate job after returning from prison only to ascend to the heights of the Parisian mob before becoming an outrageous outlaw.
Mesrine robs banks and casinos, becomes a diamond thief and eventually begins kidnapping millionaires before being on the run longer than any criminal in history. Not only is Mesrine slick with a gun, he dazzles women with his charisma. He is a persuasive leader among criminals and is always one step ahead of the lawmen trying to throw him in jail.
This is a story rarely told but brought to life onscreen in a bold fashion that is bound to stand up against the test of time. Vincent Cassel gives the performance of his career as this Robin Hood type character fuelled by Tony Montana sized ambition and the charm of James Bond.
9. Out of the Furnace (2013)
Christian Bale outdoes himself once again by giving the most stripped down performance of his career since The Machinist by playing a rundown ex-con returning home after a stint in prison. After finding out the mill he works at is about to close, he discovers his brother, a damaged veteran of the American war in the Middle East, is coping with his PTSD by entering underground fighting tournaments.
Casey Affleck goes toe to toe with Bale as his brother and pulls his weight onscreen with his most dramatic role since being the lead in Gone Baby Gone. Once his brother disappears, Bale takes his character in a brilliantly surprising direction by disintegrating all the subtlety in the early parts of his performance by giving way to the old life his character used to live.
Once this man takes over, he goes on a roaring rampage of revenge unlike anything anyone else can imagine by killing his way to the top of a redneck criminal pyramid. With a razor sharp ensemble cast including Forest Whittaker, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe and Zoe Saldana, Out of the Furnace feeds the audience an unforgiving tale of vengeance with an ending that will leave you in awe.
8. Kill the Messenger (2014)
Jeremy Renner throws audiences a sidewinder with the incredible real life journey of journalist Gary Webb that uncovered one of the largest stories of political corruption in the history of America.
Webb unearths the truth behind “Freeway” Ricky Ross, who is the California drug dealer that invented crack cocaine in the 1980’s that took America by storm, and found the source of his stash. It turns out Ross was being supplied with uncut cocaine from Nicaragua by Danillo Blandon and American Defense Minister Oliver North under the protection of the CIA to fund warfare against the communists in the Iran-Contra affair.
When Webb takes the story public through the San Jose newspaper he writes for after interviewing underworld figures involved in the conspiracy, he faces the wrath of a hell he never imagined. Renner embodies Webb on his quest for the truth while he’s being attacked by fellow journalists, under the heat of the CIA and hailed as a hero by the African-American communities across America ravaged by crack.
If there ever was the truth about a true American conspiracy about the dark heart of political corruption and its power on every level brought to the silver screen, this is it.