The crime genre has existed since the earliest days of cinema, and it remains one of the most consistent genres to this day. Crime stories are ever-changing; there are stories that span countless time periods and perspectives, and can be anything from very small independent films to massive blockbusters. It’s hard to imagine just how many great films fall into that subgenre, including some of the most influential films in history.
In the past decade, many of the greatest directors have delivered modern crime masterpieces; films such as Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, Denis Villenueve’s Sicario, or Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive all come to mind. However, there have also been many great films that didn’t receive major awards or accolades, but still deserve attention from cinephiles. Here are ten great recent crime movies you may have missed.
10. Blood Father (2016)
Mel Gibson has been making a steady comeback over the past decade, having directed the highly acclaimed war epic Hacksaw Ridge, but he’s also been making a return to acting with films like The Beaver, Get the Gringo, and Dragged Across Concrete. With Blood Father, Gibson returns to his action roots with a self-reflexive and emotional role; he stars as John Link, an ex-con and recovering alcoholic who returns to the world of violence when his daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty) is targeted by a gang of drug dealers.
While there are many familiar beats, Gibson delivers an astonishing performance; Link is the first to admit that he’s to blame for the way his life turned out, and while he doesn’t absolve Lydia for the choices she’s made, he’s willing to do anything to protect her. The action sequences are tense and gritty, lacking the polished edge of many Hollywood productions, and the set pieces are anchored by the emotional performances from Gibson and Moriarty.
9. Frontera (2014)
This highly underrated crime drama explored the complex border crisis by examining how many lives are transformed by a shocking moment of violence; when a woman, Olivia (Amy Madigan), is accidentally killed by two teenage boys near a small border town, an immigrant man, Miguel (Michael Pena) is unjustly accused of the crime. Olivia’s husband Roy (Ed Harris) desperately searches for the truth, all while a vigilante stokes further fear in their community.
What Frontera does excellently is show the madness that ensues when answers are unclear; after this shocking moment sends waves through a community, many are quick to make judgments and are eager to deal out their own form of justice. Ed Harris is one of the most reliable actors out there, and he gives a suitably gruff, non-nonsense performance that slowly unravels as Roy processes his grief.
8. Lawless (2012)
A rousing tribute to old school gangster and western films, Lawless is among the best recent films about the Prohibition era. The film follows three brothers who own a moonshine operation in the early 1930s; the non-nonsense Forrest (Tom Hardy), the wild Howard (Jason Clarke), and the naive Jack (Shia Labeouf) begin to fear for their future when the ruthless lawman Special Deputy Charley Rakes (Guy Pearce) begins to work towards closing their sting.
Although the film features incredible historical recreations and many exciting action sequences, the real reason to watch it is the performances; even smaller roles are inhabited by great actors, including Jessica Chastain as Forrest’s love interest, Gary Oldman as the ruthless mobster Floyd Banner, Dane DeHaan as the simple engineer Cricket, and Mia Wasikowska as a local girl whom Jack falls for. Hardy, Clarke, and Labeouf are believable as on-screen brothers and have great chemistry, but the real standout is Pearce, whose performance as a determined and potentially psychotic administrator of justice is impossible to look away from.
7. The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)
Matthew McConaughey is unique among today’s leading men because he is both a great actor and a great movie star; not only can McConaughey deliver emotional, honest performances of complicated characters, but he also possesses an inherent charisma that makes him eminently watchable on screen. The Lincoln Lawyer is a film that requires McConaughey to demonstrate both of these skills. He plays Mickey Haller, a whip smart criminal defense attorney who goes through a moral crisis when he begins to question his client’s innocence.
Many of the courtroom scenes require McConaughey to utilize his slick personality, but the film explores the consequences that this persona takes on Mickey, as he begins to regret the reputation he has earned. In particular, there is a powerful scene in which Mickey is forced to confront his former client Jesus (Michael Pena), who was wrongfully jailed. The film does well in dealing with legal minutia, and delivers some effective twists in the third act as Mickey attempts to both clear his consciousness and win his case.
6. Just Mercy (2019)
Just Mercy is a rare film in that it is a crowd pleaser that doesn’t shy away from the severity of the situation it’s depicting. It’s a movie with a very clear message about the issues with the legal system regarding the death sentence, but the film doesn’t feel like it’s beating the audience over the head with its intent due to the empathetic performances at its center. Michael B. Jordan delivers one of his best performances ever as Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard law graduate who sets up an office in Alabama to defend men on death row.
Stevenson’s client is Walter McMillan (Jamie Foxx), a family man who was convicted of murdering a woman in a highly televised news event. McMillan professes his innocence, but he’s skeptical that Stevenson will make any real change, as in front of any opportunity he has is a roadblock. The film does well at showing the infuriating process that Stevenson must go to in order to convince people to look for the truth, resulting in a timely and quite moving history lesson.