Tough movies about mean streets
The crime film is among the most popular movie genres, with a history stretching back to the very beginning of cinema. Although most of the most famous crime films are from the US, practically every country with a film industry dabbles in the genre as well. Over the years, some of the finest crime movies have come from overseas, and are told in the local language.
Users on r/movies, the largest film subreddit, have discussed the best foreign crime movies on several occasions. Their recommendations range from realistic French dramas to madcap Belgian thrillers, Brazilian gangster epics, and South African morality tales.
La Haine (meaning 'hatred') follows a single day in the lives of three young men in a poor part of Paris. During a riot, their friend is seriously wounded by police, and they all respond in different ways. Vinz (Vincent Cassell) vows revenge, boxer/drug dealer Hubert (Hubert Koundé) is upset but reluctant to antagonize the cops, and the quiet Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui) tries to mediate between them.
It makes for a gripping drama and also a study of French society, with a focus on the young people at the story's center. "I decided to show the story from the kids’ point of view because nobody knew the kids, especially back in 1995," director Mathieu Kassovitzexplains. Edgar Wright is also a big fan of the film. He called it an "incendiary drama set in the banlieues of Paris".
This wacky mockumentary centers on a film crew who follow a serial killer and film his murders. At first, they simply document what they see, but eventually, they take part in his crimes. The tension continues to ratchet up from there until the movie reaches some truly unhinged places.
Man Bites Dog is a black comedy, with plenty of meta observations around art and filmmaking. It's directed by Belgian filmmakers Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, and Benoît Poelvoorde. Poelvoorde also stars as the charming but psychopathic Ben. Wright adored this movie too and included it on his list of his 1000 favorite movies.
Amores Perros (Spanish for 'Love's a Bitch') features three interlocking narratives. In the first, a teenager (Gael García Bernal) gets involved in underground dogfighting; in the second, a model (Goya Toledo) sustains an injury that places her career in jeopardy, and the third follows a contract killer (Emilio Echevarría) looking for his daughter.
Amores Perros is kind of like a grittier Pulp Fiction, with some social criticism and class commentary thrown in. Director Alejandro Iñárritu would graduate to more ambitious movies likeBirdman and The Revenant, but Amores Perros remains his hardest-hitting creation.
Tsotsi (meaning 'criminal') is a South African film directed by Gavin Hood, who also made X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Ender's Game. It follows a young gangster (Presley Chweneyagae) in a Johannesburg slum who steals a car, only to find a three-month-old baby in the backseat. He tries to care for the child, but the situation is untenable.
Tsotsi made history as the first South African movie to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. "I think it's a [story] that deals with timeless and universal themes about redemption, self-discovery, coming of age and forgiveness and self-forgiveness," Hood says. "It's essentially a universal and timeless story of a young man's journey from a position of being very angry with the world to a place where the character achieves clarity and self-awareness."
Irreversible is a brutal thriller from French experimental auteur Gaspar Noé, who is probably most well-known for Enter the Void. It centers on two men who attempt to get revenge on the men who assaulted a woman they love. It takes place over a single night in Paris and is edited to look like a single continuous take, but unfolds in reverse chronological order.
"When people play with time you can see stuff differently. I get tired of chronological films. It makes this movie much more tragic because you cannot escape from destiny," Noé has said about the movie's unorthodox structure. "People can always intervene and change the path of things. Here, things are inevitable."
A Prophet centers on Malik (Tahar Rahim), a prisoner in a French jail. He begins as a meek introvert, but prison life hardens him into a veritable gangster. As a Frenchman of Algerian descent, Malik has a unique position in the prison, which is riven by conflict between Corsican and Muslim gangs. He exploits this to his advantage.
The film is impressively realistic and makes for a harrowing vision of life behind bars. Rahim also deserves credit for his nuanced handling of a challenging role. "The hero in my film is there to illustrate the capacity for resistance of the individual and his ability to make himself his own rules, his own life," says director Jacques Audiard. "I like to ask the question: have I just got one life to live or is there another way?"
Ichi the Killer is a wild, hyper-stylized, and tongue-in-cheek thriller from cult Japanese director Takashi Miike. Based on a manga, it follows an unstable young man (Nao Omori) who is manipulated into killing several yakuza during a gang war. This draws the attention of Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano), a sadomasochistic enforcer for one of the gangs.
The movie is packed with some of the most outrageous, over-the-top violence ever filmed, including deadly kicks from a bladed shoe and faces being sliced off and tossed through the air. It's also maniacally funny, especially Kakihara's hero worship of Ichi. Miike's film Audition, which is more serious but similarly enamored with gore, is also worth checking out.
Elite Squad takes place in 1997, as the Pope's visit to Rio de Janeiro approaches. A team of top law enforcement officers led by Roberto Nascimento (Wagner Moura) is tasked with taking out scores of criminals before the religious leader arrives. At the same time, Nascimento must find a worthy successor who will be able to keep the city safe. However, the cops are ethically dubious and make use of some brutal tactics.
The film was a cultural sensation in Brazil, becoming that country's highest-grossing movie while also drawing some criticism. "Elite Squad is like being a cop in an environment as violent as Rio, and what the cop thinks/how he sees the world," director José Padilha explains. "Nascimento, like Henry in Goodfellas, is full of facts and he tortures people, but you bond with him."
Sin Nombre is the debut feature from No Time to Die director Cary Joji Fukunaga. It follows Sayra (Paulina Gaitán), a Honduran girl attempting to travel to the United States. Along the way, she crosses paths with a young Mexican gangster (Edgar Flores) who helps her to deal with the host of threats that stalk the land. The young leads deliver intense, committed performances.
The movie is tense and fast-paced, practically a neo-Western. "You can't have trains or bandits without thinking of Westerns," Fukunaga has said. "And also the themes – you think of John Ford, Huston, some of the bigger Westerns and there is a sense of retribution. A lot of the stories are about justice, closing a chapter on something that happened earlier in the film, so in that way [Sin Nombre] is definitely constructed like that."
"If you run, the beast catches you; if you stay, the beast eats you." City of God is another gangland epic from Brazil. Set in a Rio district between the 1960s and '80s, it chronicles the rise of a criminal syndicate and a feud between several gangsters and vigilantes. It's anchored by terrific performances from the ensemble cast.
City of God was met with widespread critical acclaim, and director Fernando Meirelles received an Oscar nomination for Best Director. Filmmaker Robert Altman (who made M*A*S*H and Gosford Park) was a massive man of the movie. "I don't know how Fernando Meirelles made City Of God. It's so courageous, so truthful," he said. "I think it's the best picture I've ever seen."
NEXT: 8 Underrated Crime Films You Probably Haven't Seen Before
Luc Haasbroek is a writer and videographer from Durban, South Africa. A lifelong movie nerd, he’s written for sites like Paste and Briefly. Luc has also worked behind the camera on short films and other projects. When not writing or watching LOTR marathons, Luc hangs out with his cats and generally forgets where he’s left his keys.
10 Grittiest Foreign Crime Films, According to Reddit – Collider
Tough movies about mean streets