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The Anti-Hero


I just got through watching the Dead Zone tonight and USA was promoting tomorrow night's movie "Waterworld," which apparently will feature a Kevin Costner interview.

I hate to say it, but I've always liked "Waterworld." It's not something that I admit freely, because I'm usually ridiculed for liking it. It's been called the most expensive bomb ever made and many critics list it along with "Howard the Duck," "Hudson Hawk," and "Isthar" as one of the worst movies of all time.

Anyway, it wasn't until last night that I discovered why I've always liked Waterworld... it's Kevin Costner's character of the Mariner. The Mariner is simply one of the best anti-heroes I've ever seen on film. He's mean, he's surly, he's nasty, he hates everyone (including himself), but he's still a protagonist.

Now that I think about it, my love of anti-heroes probably explains my fascination with comic books and anime, since they are found in abundance in both mediums. Anyway, all this has led me to think about other movies that have classic anti-hero characters.

So far, I can only think of William Munny in "Unforgiven" (and probably a half-dozen other Clint Eastwood characters); Michael Corleone in The Godfather Saga; Sanjuro in "Yojimbo;" and a couple of others I'm not sure about.

Any other favorite anti-heroes out there?
I, too, like Waterworld, and at least in part for the same reason. My favorite genre of film, film noir, is filled with anti-heroes. To name a few: Robert Mitchum in Out Of The Past, Pursued, Blood On The Moon, Thunder Road; Marlon Brando in The Fugitive Kind, The Wild One; Errol Flynn in Captain Blood; Alan Ladd in This Gun For Hire: Humphrey Bogart in Dark Passage, Orson Welles in The Lady From Shanghai. I could go on and on, but I'll try to think of some more modern ones to post later.
I have to agree with you, film noir is filled with anti-heroes... maybe even more so that Westerns. Jack Nicholson in Chinatown would definitely classify as an anit-hero... William Holden in Sunset Blvd.; Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity... hell, even Orson Welles in Citizen Kane. But, for some reason, it seems harder for me to come up with modern ones.

It almost seems that anti-heroes began to dry up in the 70s (probably coinciding with the demise of Westerns and Film Noir)... in the early 80s I guess you also had Harrison Ford in Blade Runner.
Paul Neuman in Hombre is a little newer. Many of Toshiro's roles in Kurosawa films have him as an anti-hero, besides Yojimbo and Sanjuro, he was definitely an anti-hero in Seven Samurai, probably the only one of the seven who was. Pursued and Blood On The Moon are both film noir westerns! There were others, like the psycho-westerns, like Johnny Guitar, with Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden both as anti-heroes. James Dean was of course an anti-hero, especially in Rebel Without a Cause, where you might call Sal Mineo an anti-anti-hero-hero :D. Han Solo was supposed to be an anti-hero, being a smuggler, and reluctant to take up the cause, but actually pales compared to Kevin in Waterworld, in my unorthodox opinion. Lots of Sam Fuller films like Shock Corridor are filled with anti-heros. Certainly One Flew Over The Cuckoo"s nest is filled with anti-heros, Like McMurphy, Billy, and the Chief. I think that post WW2 film noir actually spread the love of anti-heros, and they were popular through the 60's on TV, in westerns and cop shows. I think that we have become too PC and the anti-hero is a less socially acceptable now, so there are less.
I think that we have become too PC and the anti-hero is a less socially acceptable now, so there are less.

I never thought of that, but it certainly makes sense. It's really a shame, because anti-heroes (to me at least) are far more interesting than heroes or villians.
A few relatively (compared to late 1940's noir) anti-heros:

Mel Gibson in the Mad Max movies, Lethal Weapon (the first one, after that Riggs reverted to straight hero), and more recently Payback (which had a great last line voice-over: "I promised that I would stop killing people if she would stop hookin'. Maybe we were aiming a little high.")

Clint Eastwood in, besides the westerns, such things as The Eiger Sanction and, arguably, all of the Dirty Harry movies.

Al Pacino in movies such as Dog Day Afternoon, Scarface, and Carlito's Way.

I suppose that it is cheating to bring up Shakespearean productions such as Ian McKellen's Richard III.

DeNiro in movies such as The Heist and Heat (although that is sort of an odd movie in that the cops and robbers get basically equal screen time, development, and sympathy). And, of course, Taxi Driver.

Kurt Russell as Snake Pliskin (sp?) in Eascape from New York, and I guess that we will then also have to count Escape from LA.

The whole lead ensemble groups of The Wild Bunch and The Professionals (which is another movie with a great closing line / exchange: "You bastard!" "Yes, sir. In my case an accident of birth. But you, sir, you're a self-made man.")

A number of lead charactrers in movies based on comic books (or graphic novels if you prefer), such as Tom Hanks in Road to Perdition and arguably this summer in Hulk.
I hated Waterwold. :p

I think the ultimate anti-hero of our generation is Ed Norton's character from Fight Club. I personally see that movie as our The Graduate.

Speaking of which, Hoffman's character in The Graduate might qualify.

Others not listed in this thread yet and taken from my movie collection:

- Bob Hoskins' character in The Long Good Friday

- almost any mobster movie, including Goodfellas

- Alex from A Clockwork Orange
Many of Toshiro's roles in Kurosawa films have him as an anti-hero, besides Yojimbo and Sanjuro, he was definitely an anti-hero in Seven Samurai, probably the only one of the seven who was.

Yojimbo I'll buy, but Seven Samurai? Unlikely hero, yes, but not an antihero. He's just trying to make his way in the world, pretending to be something he isn't, really, until one day he is what he made out he was. He dies very heroically.

Generally speaking I don't like antiheroes, but I do like tormented and conflicted heroes. Heroes with loads of baggage. Probably why I like "Angel" so much.
To me, the Sanjuro character was different from "Yojimbo" to "Sanjuro." You could argue that he was down right honorable in "Sanjuro" -- he helps out these young students for no apparent reason, protects women, helps bring down the villians ... that's a hero in my book. In "Yojimbo," however, it seems that he's only out for himself and grabbing as much money as he can in the process... the fact that his actions bring about a greater good for the town is only a coincidence. At least it seems that way to me.

It almost seems that way with the Snake Pliskin character... he's definitely more of an anti-hero to me in Escape from New York, but I would still argue that he's an anti-hero in Escape from L.A.
Plisken is one of my favorite anti-heroes as well. But I was thinking about this subject and it dawned on me that perhaps Clint Eastwood's character in Kelly's Heroes is one. He starts out noble as a soldier in the army but then discovers a cache of Nazi gold and embarks on a journey to steal it. While doing so he liberates an occupied town and frees the villagers in effect moving the US Army further into Nazi Territory. Does anyone else see this or is it just me? :p
Dennis Leary in The Ref?

His only goal is to avoid going to prison for burglary. Saving his hostages' marriage along the way is kinda an accident. Of course, there are a few minutes here and there when one could argue that he goes all noble; such as when he tries to explain to the teenager why followng in his footsteps is a bad plan.

Oh, and back on whole lead ensembles: The Usual Suspects. I saw a fair amount of it again last night on AMC (I think, might have A&E or Bravo; they're all in a cluster in my cable channel numbers). Cleaning up the dialog in that movie creates a lot of choppy dialog (when the silence individual words), some very odd sounding dialog (when they change words, like in the opeing line-up when the police have them all recite a line that was changed to "Hand over the money, you fairy god-mother."), and some whole lines missing (they cut the whole "Oswald was a *****." line).
Yeah, you'd figure that comedies would be riddled with anti-heroes, there's a lot of fertile ground there to work with, but for the life of me I can't think of any.

I almost want to make the argument that Forrest Gump may be an anti-hero since he lacks some of the typical heroic qualities (intelligence, emotion, awareness) but the guy has a lot of heart and I guess that's enough for me to push him in the realm of hero.
I would say the defining characteristics of hero are courage and being on the side of "right." So Gump was a hero, if an accidental one.

I think a great comedic anti-hero is The Dude.
The Coen Brothers... good choice. I wonder if you could also lump in Ulysses Everett McGill from "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"
I guess so, but I don't remember the movie too well.

I only recently saw Lebowski and am now interested in re-watching Fargo and Brother, as well as seeing Miller's Crossing and Raising Arizona.

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