5. Triple Frontier
Triple Frontier has the premise of a standard action film, but the film proved to be a more psychologically tense experience, as it focuses on the tough moral decisions that soldiers face in the midst of conflict. Directed by J.C. Chandor, the brilliant filmmaker behind Margin Call and A Most Violent Year, the film follows a doomed South American robbery by five veterans: Redfly (Ben Affleck), Pope (Oscar Isaac), Ironhead (Charlie Hunnam), Benny (Garrett Hedlund), and Catfish (Pedro Pascal). The five men are haunted by their experiences, and they reluctantly team up for a mission to rob a drug lord, but the heist goes wrong, forcing them to survive in a dangerous environment.
Part of the reason for the film’s success is screenwriter Mark Boal; Boal also wrote The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, and once again he proves to be a master at crafting realistic military dialogue and capturing the lasting impact of PTSD on these veterans. The audiences’ perspective of these characters changes as they make difficult decisions in the midst of survival, and Chandor executes many thrilling setpieces, including a jaw dropping opening bank robbery sequence and a thrilling helicopter crash. It’s an intelligent, and often thought provoking thriller.
4. The Score
The Score is a perfectly charming, old fashioned heist thriller that is elevated by its cast, which features three generations of great actors. Robert De Niro and Edward Norton play two thieves who reluctantly team up to steal a French sceptre from a highly secure location. De Niro and Norton have a great dynamic, as De Niro’s veteran thief is rejuvenated into one last heist by Norton’s character, a slick and overconfident kid who has succeeded by impersonating janitors.
However, the real scene stealer of the film is Marlon Brando, who gives his last truly great performance as Max, the employer of De Niro’s character. The story is ultimately predictable and adheres to many crime movie cliches, but these three great actors make the material even richer and the conflict all the more exciting. The legendary Frank Oz directs the film with a crisp attention to detail, particularly in the thrilling sequences when De Niro and Norton pull off their heist.
3. Buster’s Mal Heart
Had Buster’s Mal Heart been a larger critical or commercial success, it’s the type of film that would spawn heavy analysis of its complex story, interesting themes, and unique worldbuilding. The film is highly disorienting due to its nonlinear structure and obtuse characters, but it builds to become a profound and even moving portrayal of how paranoia and guilt can transform a person’s best qualities. Rami Malek stars as Jonah, a man who was once a husband and respected concierge, but now is permanently on the run from the police as he tells tales about an upcoming apocalyptic event.
Malek gives a dynamic performance similar to his role on Mr. Robot, and is able to show the different sides of Jonah throughout each timeline; at one point he is a relatively normal and caring father, and in another he is a crazed conspiracy theorist who lives beyond the normal semblance of reality. Malek is able to keep the character consistent throughout, and gives a powerful emotional center to what is often a challenging film to follow.
2. The Gift
Joel Edgerton has been a consistently reliable character actor for over two decades, and Edgerton stepped behind the camera for the psychological thriller The Gift. Edgerton stars as Gordon Mosley, a loner who encounters his childhood classmate Simon Callem (Jason Bateman), who is now happily married to his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall). Simon and Robyn are off put by Gordon, who continuously brings them gifts and attempts to integrate himself into their lives, but they are wholly unprepared for the secrets that Gordon has about Simon’s past.
The details about what transpired when Simon and Gordon went to school together are gradually introduced into the story through Robyn, who attempts to put the story together on her own as both men try to deceive her. While Bateman is best known for his comedic roles, he has also proven to be a talented dramatic actor in shows like Ozark and The Outsider, and here he gets the chance to play a complicated character who is forced to wrestle with his past mistakes. The ending is shocking and provocative, but it’s the type of third act twist that only works because of the gradual character building that preceded it.
1. Killing Them Softly
Andrew Dominik’s mercilessly grim crime epic was a response to the chaos of the financial crisis, condensing the complexity of the situation to a series of vignettes surrounding the aftermath of a robbery of a mob-protected poker game. Each scenario offers a different perspective on the failed vision of the American Dream, and through the chaos of the situation, Dominik paints a cold portrait of a world removed from empathy. It’s methodical and shocking, with shocking bursts of violence disrupting the cold stillness of Dominik’s world-weary criminals.
The film also has one of the best casts of any crime film of the past decade, and each actor adds a different perspective to the story. Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy are terrific as two dim-witted robbers who plan the central heist, and Ray Liotta delivers one of his best performances since Goodfellas as the leader of the central gang.
Brad Pitt gives one of his darkest performances as the mob’s enforcer, and in a scene stealing role, James Gandolfini appears as a veteran hitman who contemplates his future. The character interactions often lead to amusing anecdotes, but they add up to an ultimately dark finale in which everyone is left on their own. Dominik’s film was initially met with a mixed response, but now that is regarded as a classic within the genre, film fans should definitely check it out on Netflix.