Monday, January 24, 2011

Movie Cliché du Jour: The Last Big Score

No, not that kind of Score... well, okay, maybe.
If there is an exhausted, worn out movie trope that needs to be retired from the screenwriters' big book of clichés it is the exhausted, worn out criminal looking to retire. Could it be that Hollywood has a dirty conscience? Do the aging executives and agents who greenlight movies have a weak spot for world weary criminals looking for a new life? Perhaps, perhaps not, but from Heat to The American to The Town, we're starting to wonder where all the mid-career criminals have gone.

The basic template goes something like this... He's the best at what he does, but he's tired of the life (assassin, bank robber, burglar, con artist, whatever), and wonders if an old sinner like himself deserves a second chance. You see, to survive, he lives by a code and that code doesn't permit entanglements or relationships. So he's isolated, he's lonely and he's tired of always looking over his shoulder. About this time, a woman enters the picture. She's younger (sometimes much, much, much younger), but she falls for him even though he's creepily secretive about his personal life in a way that the average female reader of Vogue knows spells trouble. Her love makes him wonder if maybe redemption is in the cards. He starts dreaming of how they'll "go away" together, and start anew. But... there's a catch.

The catch is that he works for the kind of people that won't let him "walk away." They never do. Inexplicably, rather than just disappear, our usually meticulous hero will make a point of telling his boss/associates that he's looking to quit. Like that is ever a good idea, and they launch operation bump off/set up the hero. At this point, there are several things you can count on. A big score will present itself, but there will be something dubious about it. He won't like it. It will be unlike anything he's ever attempted - "too" dangerous, risky, complicated...whatever. Eventually, he'll agree to it because either he needs it to retire on, or because his handlers put the screws to him... or both.

Sometimes the writer will throw a young hotshot apprentice type into the mix - he wants to learn from the best but will he betray his mentor?You bet your sweet bippy he will. But either way, our hero's meticulously orchestrated plan will eventually go sideways. The hero scrambles to improvise on the fly. Sometimes he makes it, sometimes he dies ironically when he is so, so close (doesn't really matter which), but no one ever gets out clean. There's always a price to be paid even if the hero lives. Must be those dirty consciences getting the better of Hollywood again.

See Also: 

Bangkok Dangerous
Leon/The Professional 
The Bourne Trilogy
Sexy Beast
The Killing
The Thomas Crown Affair
The Getaway
Layer Cake
The Score

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