Film and television protagonists aren’t what they used to be. The venerable likes of Aragorn, Indiana Jones, and Jason Bourne have been replaced. Perhaps it’s just me getting older, but my favorite characters of recent memory are much more conniving, amoral, and all-around bad people. Think back to 2007’s No Country for Old Men: Who’s the one character you remember in that movie? I’d bet good money that it’s Javier Bardem’s stonefaced serial killer Anton Chigurh, which isn’t to say that Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin didn’t deliver engrossingly complex performances. But there is something so terrifying in Chigurh’s steadfast philosophy and his dedication to principles, no matter how appalling they might be, that makes him unforgettable.
Sure, there are plenty of “good guys” that viewers can get behind (Captain Phillips for instance). But there’s just something about the bad guys these days that is so much more fun.
This conceit is magnified tenfold when a not-so-great-guy is at the center of the story—think Frank Underwood in House of Cards. Perhaps it’s the audience investment in their Machiavellian goals that makes these characters so enticing. Perhaps it’s that they commit acts I never would, but they also commit to a steadfast approach that I probably couldn’t. The bottom line is that the bad guys with no brains no longer exist. They’re smart, smarter than most. So here are a few not-so-great film and TV characters I wouldn’t mind have a beer with.
Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood
There are plenty of memorable moments in P.T. Anderson’s 2007 epic, but the opening scenes are some of the most important to truly understand the psyche of oilman Daniel Plainview. Throughout most of the film we see Plainview as a vastly successful man complete with a golden pocket watch and one of those new-fangled auto-mo-biles. The opening shows us a starkly different Plainview, one who worked in the trenches, who endure physical and mental pain to achieve only the slightest wealth.
I probably wouldn’t ask Plainview to grab a milkshake with me… or to go bowling for that matter, but you’ve got to admit that the opportunity to sit down with a guy like this is something that couldn’t be passed up. Around the midway point of There Will Be Blood Daniel reveals to his half-brother a staunch hatred he has for most people. He feels that others’ successes hinder his own, that there is a peak, and he alone belongs at the top. A vicious idea, but one has to respect his diligence.
Henry Hill from Goodfellas
The real question with this character is, what makes him so awful? Is it the heinous crimes he commits throughout his career as a mobster? Or his ratting out everyone he knew in exchange for a life of monotony in the witness exchange program? Perhaps it’s a little bit of both. If I were to grab a beer with Hill I would have to make sure that it was on good terms—hopefully I didn’t owe any favors. I’d also steer clear of calling Tommy DeVito a funny guy. But sitting down with a few mobsters and talking about business doesn’t sound like too bad of a time, even if it meant spending most of my time sitting in the corner and thinking to myself “just smile and nod, smile and nod.”
Frank Underwood from House of Cards
Underwood is probably the smartest guy on this list, and the one that would be hardest to read. Frank is as cunning as he is deceitful, and to be able to pick his brain would be great. Although I imagine the conversation would eventually lead to me somehow benefitting his never-ending desire for power. And me, being the impressionable, nice, caring guy that I am would probably do whatever he asked unquestioningly. Come to think of it, I’d make a damn good Meechum. Frank would probably prefer a glass of Lagavulin 16 Year in place of beer, which I would gladly consent to. Anything to stay friends with Mr. Underwood, because friends make the worst enemies after all.
Jordan Belfort from The Wolf of Wall Street
We are never asked to “like” Belfort in Scorsese’s latest. That’s what I liked most about The Wolf of Wall Street. Belfort is never “redeemed” for his appalling behavior. This is easily a route the movie that could have been taken. Belfort could have had some epiphany, righted his wrongs, etc. Instead, he continues on, a shell of his former self, doing the only thing he knows how.
Jordan has too much charisma not to sit down for drinks with. Though, I imagine that there’s no such thing as “just one drink” with him. Not to mention there’d probably be a bit more cocaine involved than I was prepared for. But perhaps just one night of overindulgence with the brokers of Stratton Oakmont would be okay. Right?
Luke Johnsen writes about TV and movies for BroBible. Follow him on Twitter.