Best of the Bad Guys: Why We Root for Antiheroes


Loose cannons. Vigilantes. Wild cards. Mad dogs. Whatever term is applied to them, there’s a breed of cinematic action figures that inspire devotion in spite of themselves. Born from the shadows of film noir and pulp literature, nursed in decades of anti-establishment distrust, and coming of age in a time when systems have failed us, these antiheroes have become some of the most beloved and iconic characters in movies.

From “Escape From New York,” to “The Dirty Dozen,” to “Deadpool,” to the upcoming “Suicide Squad,” audiences love them some amoral heroes who dispense justice on their own terms. But what is it about these figures that inspire such fandom? Why do we cheer for these criminals, psychopaths and murderers who do things their own way? We should be afraid of their unpredictability and judge them for bucking due process, but instead, we are fascinated by their actions, titillated by their attitudes and seduced by their charms. What is it about bad guys that make them so good?

The simplest answer is because we wish we had the moral clarity and independence that these antiheroes possess. Sure, they are horrible people who do terrible things, but we like them because ultimately they do moral Good with an amoral attitude (while they kill capriciously, it usually turns out the people they mow down are even worse folks)? Being outside of the dichotomy of Right and Wrong, indulging in whatever selfish desire they happen to pursue, willing to dole out punishment to the wicked and the annoying alike, all of it is easy to idealize and desire for an audience. Especially for an audience that feels increasingly demoralized, disempowered and disenfranchised by the system they thought they should follow.

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Blu-ray Review: “Clint Eastwood: 20-Film Collection”

Trying to distill the cinematic legacy of an actor/director like Clint Eastwood into a mere 20 films is basically a fool’s errand, as there is no algorithm which can successfully produce a set that will please everyone, but Warner Brothers at least gets credit for taking a decent stab at it, even if the end result is still something that you can only imagine being given as a gift.

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Starting out with 1971’s “Dirty Harry” is certainly a strong beginning, and things stay strong with the decision to follow it with the second Harry Callahan film, 1973’s “Magnum Force,” but even though they do include “Sudden Impact” later in the set, skipping “The Enforcer” and “The Dead Pool” is a sure way to ensure that Dirty Harry fans will say, “Well, if they’re not all in there, then I don’t want it.” (Then again, it’d also result in the existing “Dirty Harry Collection” selling fewer copies, so that’s probably the rationale behind the decision.)

You can’t really blame them for including “Every Which Way But Loose” but leaving out the sub-par sequel “Any Which Way You Can,” but it’s more than a little eyebrow-raising to see that “Letters from Iwo Jima” without its companion piece, “Flags of our Fathers.” It can at least be said that all of Eastwood’s best Warner Brothers westerns are included in the set, with “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” “Pale Rider,” and “Unforgiven” making the cut, but there are still some inclusions and omissions that seems somewhat odd.

Sure, you can accept “The Gauntlet” making the cut because it was the first film he directed for Warner Brothers, but the inclusion of the decidedly dated “Firefox” seems likely to have been inspired by someone in the WB accounting department saying, “Y’know, if we put that one in instead of ‘Honkytonk Man,’ then we won’t have to license as much music.” (On that note, “Bird” probably never had a chance in Hell of making it into the set.) Also, I’m not saying they don’t exist, but if you can find me someone who prefers “Hereafter” to “Tightrope,” I’d love to meet them.

Okay, enough bitching. It’s not a perfect collection, but “Clint Eastwood: 20-Film Collection” is certainly plenty of hours of good movies that, for the most part, look really damned good. Also, in addition to the bonus materials which carry over from the previous releases of the films, there’s also the highly worthwhile inclusion of two documentaries: 2010’s “The Eastwood Factor,” which is available elsewhere, and the new “Eastwood Directs: The Untold Story.” You might not want to buy it, but you can’t say it isn’t worth owning.