What makes a good Thriller? I don’t believe there is a formula that makes a thriller, the aspects of a successful thriller usually revolve around the opposing forces of good versus evil, however, the line between good and evil can be very murky, it’s usually high-stakes…a ticking clock, life or death in the balance with some kind of realisation.

The thriller genre is packed with sub-genres and there are many classic thrillers. Hitchcock was the master of suspense thrillers, Rear Window (1954) and Dial M for Murder (1954) are two of my favourites. There are notable thrillers – Se7en (1995) ; Fatal Attraction (1987); Les diaboliques (1955) to name a few. From The Godfather (1972); Aliens (1986);The Usual Suspects (1995) to Jaws (1975) are classed as thrillers. While I wouldn’t necessary agree fully with all the categories of the aforementioned it’s clear that thrillers are hard to define.

 
Below are my comments on a few mystery thrillers that are  typical in some cases but in others definitive of the genre. I hope you enjoy my thoughts these thrillers, possibly seek them out or steer clear from them…


Angel Heart (1987)

P.I Harry Angel has a new case, to find a man called Johnny Favourite, only it isn’t a straight forward missing person’s case. Prefect, grounded, Alan’s Parker’s voodoo-laden, hard-boiled film is the ultimate mystery film.

This is without a doubt Mickey Rourke’s finest role. The supporting cast deliver some of the most interesting and story driven performance that include Robert De Niro, Lisa Bonet and Charlotte Rampling to name a few.

You can feel 1955’s New Orleans warm rain, hear the jazz, taste the grit of 1950’s Brooklyn, the film’s Cinematography is amazing,. The films realism captures the time wholly, Trevor Jones mystery music builds up the tension as murders increase Harry Angel is drawn into eventful dangerous meetings. The dialogue is flawless and the ending has a mind-blowing twist that has been imitated but never surpassed. The Johnny Favourite theme tune will linger with you long after the end credits.

A timeless, eerie and realistic atmospheric classic. Perfect.


The Game (1997)

Wealthy financier Nicholas Van gets drawn into a live-action game that consumes his life. Douglas perfectly portrays the characters journey, excellently written by John D. Brancato & Michael Ferris.


It’s a psychological thriller packed with intrigue and suspense, a creepy clown and feeling of helplessness. Supporting actors are an array of familiar faces that include flawless performances from Sean Penn, Deborah Kara Unger and Armin Mueller-Stahl.

The flashback scenes of a younger Nicholas are captured beautifully by cinematographer Harris Savides and Howard Shore’s score heightens the pivotal moments elegantly.

 The Game is an exciting Hitcock-like yarn, with a principled message of wealth and youth, it’s a fantastic thriller with amazing twists and turns from David Fincher. A must see.

Basic Instinct (1992)

Known at the time for its nookie and infamous cross-legged interrogation scene, 50 San Francisco riot police had to be present at every location to deal with picketing gay and lesbian activists, it’s hard to believe the film caused such a stir at the time.

Michael Douglas plays a police detective investigating a brutal murder, in which a beautiful and seductive woman could be involved. It is without doubt Sharon Stone’s best and most memorable performance, as writer Catherine Tramell, who taps into every mans fear of being lied to, rejected and so on.

The supporting cast are effective, it has a few familiar faces in there. Jeanne Tripplehorn, George Dzundza and Leilani Sarelle are surprisingly good. That said, Douglas who gives great performance does seem miscast especially in the night-club, where he gurns and sports a jumper that will stick in your mind forever.


Despite the dramatic score being over powering in places it adds to the film stylised charm. Director Paul Verhoeven keeps set ups interesting and writer Joe Eszterhas puts in enough twists, albeit clichéd, to keep you interested.

Arguably less effective than Al Pacino’s 1989’s Sea of love, Basic Instinct is a big budget solid thriller that still stands up today.

Shutter Island (2010)

U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniel’s and his partner investigating the disappearance of a murderess who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane and is apparently hiding on the remote Shutter Island.

Martin Scorsese again demonstrates why he is one of the worlds best directors. The CGI is unnoticeable and only used to create the imagery of Shutter Island. A WW2 concentration camp, Dachau, is recreated for a disturbing and key scene. Scorese perfectly recreates the 1954, bring the best of location, sets, lighting and sound together to deliver a fantastic psychological thriller.

The cast is a fine line-up that includes Leonardo DiCaprio who manages to get away with the complexity of the characters situation; Swed’ Max von Sydow is on usual perfect form. Zodiac (2007) and Collateral’s (2004) Mark Ruffalo is excellent, although a little under used as Daniel’s partner. Thankfully Ben Kingsley has taken on a role worthy of his abilities as the empathetic Dr. John Cawley. In addition, Ted Levine and Elias Koteas show up in almost cameo appearances.
There’s plenty to like about Shutter Island, it exudes atmosphere, and it’s foreboding and eerie. The story tackles alcoholism, mental heath and asks the viewer to question what should be perceived as a dream and what should perceives as real. It’s an intriguing mystery that not since Angel Heart (1987) have I seen such a well constructed psychological period film. Credit must go to the Laeta Kalogridis’ screen-play and Dennis Lehane’s novel.

Possibly one of Scorsese’ best films.

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