The best crime movies on Netflix

The best crime movies on Netflix

Clockwise from top left: Bonnie And Clyde (Screenshot); Nightcrawler  (Screenshot); Cop Car (Photo: Audax Films); The Departed (Screenshot);  Cool Hand Luke (Screenshot); Training Day (Warner Bros./Getty Image); Killing Them  Softly (Screenshot)
Clockwise from top left: Bonnie And Clyde (Screenshot); Nightcrawler (Screenshot); Cop Car (Photo: Audax Films); The Departed (Screenshot); Cool Hand Luke (Screenshot); Training Day (Warner Bros./Getty Image); Killing Them Softly (Screenshot)

Streaming libraries expand and contract. Algorithms are imperfect. Those damn thumbnail images are always changing. But you know what you can always rely on? The expert opinions and knowledgeable commentary of The A.V. Club. That’s why we’re scouring both the menus of the most popular services and our own archives to bring you these guides to the best viewing options, broken down by streamer, medium, and genre. Want to know why we’re so keen on a particular movie? Click the title at the top of each slide for some in-depth coverage from The A.V. Club’s past. And be sure to check back often, because we’ll be adding more recommendations as films come and go.

Some titles on this list also appear on our best movies on Netflix list, but we decided crime films deserved their own spotlight since they are often not included on our year-end lists as much as other genres. The criteria for inclusion here is that (1) the film is classified by Netflix as a crime film (2) The A.V. Club has written critically about the movie; and (3) if it was a graded review, it received at least a “B.” Some newer (and much older) movies will be added over time as Netflix announces new additions to their library.

Looking for other movies to stream? Also check out our list of the best movies on Amazon Prime, best movies on Disney+, and best movies on Hulu. And if you’re looking for a scare or a laugh, check out our list of the best horror films and the best comedy movies on Netflix.

This list was most recently updated May 2, 2021.

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2 / 25

The Bling Ring

The Bling Ring

Emma Watson
Emma Watson
Screenshot: The Bling Ring

Based on a Vanity Fair article by Nancy Jo Sales, The Bling Ring is inspired by an actual 2008–2009 rash of L.A.-area robberies, when a group of high-schoolers from Calabasas, California, managed to invade the estates of Bloom, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Megan Fox, and others, helping themselves to whatever they wanted. As the movie tells it, the spree begins when a smiling sociopath (Katie Chang) ropes the new kid in “dropout school” (Israel Broussard) into breaking into a friend’s house. Soon their sights turn to celebrities. It’s easy to know when “Paris” is out of town because of “news” on the Internet—and apparently she, too, leaves her keys under the mat. As the ring expands to include the duo’s friends (notably ones played by Emma Watson, who steals the movie, and Taissa Farmiga, Vera’s younger sister), The Bling Ring quietly ponders entitlement culture. In one sense, there’s not much separating these hard-partying, brand-blinded teens from Lindsay Lohan, nabbed for shoplifting at around the same time. [Ben Kenisberg]

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3 / 25

Blue Ruin

Blue Ruin

Illustration for article titled The best crime movies on Netflix
Screenshot: Blue Ruin

To call Blue Ruin a “revenge thriller” would be accurate but somehow insufficient, as doing so makes it sound ordinary and crass. Some have already compared the film to the work of the Coen brothers, by which they must mean No Country For Old Men; the bloodshed comes nearly as fast and hard as it did there, and there’s a comparable focus on the details of life on the run—on staking out a location, or acquiring a weapon, or getting away from somewhere fast. But in its unusual cross section of moods, Blue Ruin rarely resembles anything but itself. Much of the singularity can be attributed to the film’s atypical hero, surely one of the year’s great characters. Actor Macon Blair makes Dwight driven but hapless, locating a lot of sly comedy in his imperfect foray into crime: He disables a vehicle, only to realize he needs it as a makeshift getaway car; later, he makes an amateur attempt to treat his own leg wound. (Don’t try his method at home.) But Dwight is also a lost soul, his face sunken with ancient grief, and Blair invests him with the reckless forward momentum of someone running on last-ditch desperation. [A.A. Dowd]

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4 / 25

Bonnie And Clyde

Bonnie And Clyde

Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty
Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty
Screenshot: Bonnie And Clyde

When the title characters in 1967's Bonnie And Clyde first lay eyes on each other, they smile in what seems like immediate recognition. They both consider themselves exceptional people bound for glory, and they’re each pleased to encounter a kindred egotistical soul who’s ready to act as an admiring mirror and enabler. Within seconds of that first encounter, they’ve already formed the mutual admiration society that will lead them through years of crimes, and straight to the grave. Granted, Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) is stark naked, and Clyde (Warren Beatty) is trying to steal her mother’s car, so they each have an extra reason for wry amusement. But the easygoing charm of that first meeting summarizes what made Arthur Penn’s Bonnie And Clyde so controversial upon its release, and what still makes it memorable today. Forty years ago, charming, likeable, fun criminals were a licentious shocker; today, they’re old hat, but Bonnie And Clyde still maintains its amiable charisma. [Tasha Robinson]

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5 / 25

Cool Hand Luke

Cool Hand Luke

Paul Newman
Paul Newman
Screenshot: Cool Hand Luke

The Newman in Cool Hand Luke isn’t as chatty as the one of Hud, but under different circumstances, the surly egomaniac of Hud might have become the restless rebel of Luke. Newman won the hearts of the counterculture—and garnered his fourth Best Actor Oscar nomination—playing a devil-may-care dude who’s arrested for a silly crime and sent to work on a chain gang, where he spends his days charming his fellow cons while concocting clever escapes. Cool Hand Luke’s plot is pure allegory, but the character is fully human. He’s funny, quietly cocky, and he can eat 50 eggs. [Read more]

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6 / 25

Cop Car

Cop Car

Kevin Bacon
Kevin Bacon
Photo: Audax Films

Truth in advertising: Cop Car is almost entirely about a cop car. Parked on the outskirts of a wooded area, with no corresponding officer anywhere in sight, the vehicle is discovered by a pair of 10-year-old boys, Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford), who stumble onto it while running away from home together. Finding the keys, and possessing maybe one-sixteenth of a lick of sense between them, they immediately decide to take a joy ride, heading out onto the highway despite barely being able to see over the dashboard. Meanwhile, the car’s owner, Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon), has to scramble to recover it before anyone else with a badge learns that it’s been stolen. Or, rather, borrowed. [Mike D’Angelo]

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7 / 25

The Departed

The Departed

Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon
Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon
Screenshot: The Departed

The Hong Kong action movie Infernal Affairs has the sort of hook that would fill an arena in the rock world: Two police-academy graduates work as moles on opposite sides of the law—one as an undercover cop in the mob, the other as a gangster infiltrating the police department. Shot through by his most propulsive storytelling since Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese’s remake, The Departed, orchestrates such a perfect balance between these mirroring characters that the film achieves a kind of musical symmetry. And in a Boston neighborhood where all the little Irish boys grow up to be cops or criminals, the parallels between them are unmistakable; as Jack Nicholson’s hard-nosed kingpin puts it, “When you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?” In Scorsese’s world, such dreadful ambiguities coarsen the soul. [Scott Tobias]

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8 / 25

The Devil All The Time

The Devil All The Time

Bill Skarsgård in The Devil All The Time
Bill Skarsgård in The Devil All The Time
Photo: Glen Wilson/Netflix

Two crucifixions loom over director Antonio Campos’ The Devil All The Time. The first is the one that killed Jesus Christ. The other is the one that World War II veteran Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgård) witnesses on the Solomon Islands, when he finds a fellow soldier who’s been flayed and strung up while still alive. When he returns from the war to his home in southeastern Ohio, Willard isn’t particularly religious. But the more he roots himself in his community, and the more he thinks about the terrible things he’s seen, the more fervently Christian he becomes. The story’s main focus is on Willard’s teenage son Arvin (Tom Holland), who endures a series of family tragedies that leave him as hardened as his dad. With no real long-term goals, Arvin mostly spends his days looking out for his own people—and especially his orphaned friend Lenora (Eliza Scanlen), who gets mercilessly bullied by the older boys at their school. Lenora is the daughter of the fiery preacher Roy Laferty (Harry Melling), who died under mysterious circumstances; she’s secretly being seduced by the new minister, Reverend Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson), who uses scripture to belittle and manipulate his congregation. Meanwhile, the whole area is being very loosely policed by the corrupt Sheriff Lee Bodecker (Sebastian Stan), whose own sister Sandy (Riley Keough) is one half of a couple who get their kicks by seducing lonely travelers and then murdering them. (Jason Clarke plays the other half.) In short: The Devil All The Time is a portrait of a place populated by creeps and abusers, where the police and the church offer little refuge. [Noel Murray]

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9 / 25

El Camino

El Camino

Aaron Paul
Aaron Paul
Photo: Ben Rothstein (Netflix)

Transformation remains the primary subject of Gilligan’s work in the Breaking Bad-verse, and with El Camino, he’s once more taken the raw materials of unanswered questions and inessential franchise extension and turned them into intoxicatingly potent entertainment. The movie is more of a nail-biting crowd-pleaser than the relationship-based drama of the often-muted Better Call Saul; it’s also much more interested in reversing the polarity of its parent program. As he lays low and cobbles together an escape plan, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) slinks through the shadows of a hometown so impacted by his criminal activities that even his cozy childhood home bears traces of collateral damage wrought by the Heisenberg empire. It’s like time-lapse photography of Breaking Bad’s eggs being unscrambled: One flashy set piece finds Jesse tearing an apartment apart as if it were the negative image of Walt and him assembling their temporary meth lab in one of Vamonos Pest’s tented houses. Indelible pictures like this emerge, but El Camino keeps one foot planted in serialized television, another in cinematic one-offs. Of course, the filmmaking on Breaking Bad was plenty ambitious to start with, so it’s not like Gilligan, cinematographer Marshall Adams, and editor Skip Macdonald have great leaps to make in order to elevate their POV shots and whiplash time jumps to the level of something grander. [Erik Adams]

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10 / 25

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Rooney Mara
Rooney Mara
Screenshot: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

There is no director more ideally suited to adapt Stieg Larsson’s best-selling potboiler The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo than David Fincher, and not just for the obvious reason that he knows his way around the serial-killer thriller. He’s equally adept at taking unwieldy chunks of exposition—like the lawsuits over the founding of Facebook or the leads (and blind alleys) in the investigation of the Zodiac killer or the gnarled family tree in Larsson’s book—and making it look like cinema of the first order. A typically Fincherian hero—the loner who retreats from family and society to burrow into a project—Daniel Craig stars as a Swedish journalist who seizes the chance to pivot out of highly publicized libel suit and into something new. Christopher Plummer, as the retired CEO of a large corporation, summons Craig to a remote island where he and members of his family live in luxury, and, more often than not, bitter estrangement. Plummer wants Craig to document the family’s history, but the focus of his investigation turns to the disappearance (and likely murder) of Plummer’s grand-niece 36 years earlier. As the case grows more complicated, Craig brings on an unconventional but brilliant research assistant in Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a young woman coarsened by her horrific experiences within the social system. [Scott Tobias]

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11 / 25

Good Time

Good Time

Robert Pattinson
Robert Pattinson
Photo: A24

Abel Ferrara’s downtown Manhattan is long gone, replaced with sterile, half-filled high rises and wildly overpriced bistros. But there’s still plenty of grit left on the streets of New York City. You just have to travel to the outer boroughs, as directors Josh and Benny Safdie did for their frenetic crime drama Good Time. The film pulses with the energy of the city as manic scumbag Connie (Robert Pattinson, practically unrecognizable in a dirty hoodie and ratty goatee) fumbles his way through a hastily conceived rescue mission after his disabled brother Nick (Benny Safdie) gets arrested at the end of a foot chase following a botched bank robbery. The breakneck pace and scuzzy desperation of Connie’s quest gives the film—which takes place entirely over the course of one night—a certain fun-house quality, enhanced by the delirious close-up cinematography, aggressively stylized lighting, and synthesizer score. The fact that part of it literally takes place in an amusement park doesn’t hurt, either. [Katie Rife]

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12 / 25

The Irishman

The Irishman

Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro in The Irishman
Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro in The Irishman
Photo: Netflix

One day, Martin Scorsese will die. That’s a difficult thing to accept—difficult because it will be a staggering loss for film culture, but also pretty hard to even believe. Scorsese, at a very spry 77, was everywhere in 2019: igniting a debate about what is or isn’t cinema; inspiring autumn hits so indebted to his style that he should have received royalties; executive-producing two of the other movies on this very list and piecing together a lost Bob Dylan concert. And yet to watch The Irishman, his gangster opus to end all gangster opuses, is to be constantly reminded of the promise of mortality—his, ours, everyone’s. Make no mistake, this is a remarkably brisk three and a half hours, dramatizing half a century of organized crime through dark-comic confrontations (and an outsized Al Pacino performance) so deliriously funny, they’ve already generated a whole library of memes. But right from his opening shot, a morbid parody of the Copacabana sequence in Goodfellas, Scorsese foregrounds the inevitable. And his film becomes, in its magnificently bleak final stretch, a meditation on the true consequences of the mob life, the ignoble end awaiting men like Henry Hill, Sam Rothstein, and the film’s own protagonist, mafia hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro, weaponizing the sleepiness of his latter-day work into a devastating portrait of moral absence). One of the many ironies of the movie is that it uses distinctly modern means—from de-aging technology to streaming-platform resources—to eulogize a time-honored genre and the careers of the artists who shaped it. But however firmly Scorsese has planted himself on the vanguard, however relevant and vital and, yes, alive he remains as an artist, his latest triumph is a stark acknowledgment of what’s coming. If we’re lucky, The Irishman says, we get to pick out our own coffin. Watching the movie, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Scorsese has picked his. [A.A. Dowd]

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13 / 25

The Killing Of A Sacred Deer

The Killing Of A Sacred Deer

Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell in The Killing Of A Sacred Deer
Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell in The Killing Of A Sacred Deer
Photo: A24 Films

Unfolding with the inevitability of a bad dream, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is Lanthimos’ darkly intense, almost biblical spin on one of those thrillers about a yuppie family terrorized by a vengeful stalker. It’s like Cape Fear by way of The Shining, just in the same absurdist register as all of the Greek director’s trips to the Twilight Zone. To say where the plot goes would be unfair, but it involves a mysterious malady, an impossible choice, and a terrible reckoning. Those up on their Greek tragedy may recognize the outline of Iphigenia’s tussle with Artemis—a dispute that began, hint hint, with a slain deer. But you needn’t know for mythology to recognize a false deity, courting comeuppance by deciding who lives and who dies. [A.A. Dowd]

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14 / 25

Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly

Brad Pitt
Brad Pitt
Photo: Killing Them Softly

In Andrew Dominik’s superb revisionist Western The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, he staged the last days of an iconoclastic gangster with a strong feeling for how his story could take root in the American imagination. Dominik’s follow-up, Killing Them Softly, makes that subtext text, wondering aloud what makes America America, and exploring the greed and avarice that cannot be extricated from the freedom and opportunity that’s supposed to make the country great. While it isn’t unusual for nasty little genre movies like Dominik’s stylish heist thriller to smuggle such themes under the surface, Killing Them Softly makes them startlingly explicit. All the criminal mayhem that composes it—an audacious robbery and the bloody retribution that follows—is mere prelude to a thesis statement, support for a grim assessment of the country on the eve of the 2008 Presidential election. [Scott Tobias]

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15 / 25

Machete Kills

Machete Kills

Danny Trejo
Danny Trejo
Screenshot: Machete Kills

Robert Rodriguez’s Machete Kills, like its predecessor Machete (and the fake trailer between Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse movies that birthed it), concerns itself equally with comedy and over-the-top action, constantly tweaking the dosage so as not to tilt too far in one direction. Machete Kills is gleefully ridiculous, one-upping the first movie’s jokes, blood, and even its massively heightened self-awareness. No matter how Rodriguez would like to pitch it, Machete Kills isn’t really an homage to exploitation movies as much as it’s a parody of them. Its tongue is jammed so far in its cheek that it scans, at least in parts, like an Austin Powers movie, albeit one with multiple beheadings and disembowelings. Which isn’t to say it’s no fun—in fact, it delivers pretty much exactly what it sets out to.

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16 / 25

Mystic River

Mystic River

Sean Penn
Sean Penn
Screenshot: Mystic River

Director Clint Eastwood’s film adapts a Dennis Lehane novel, keeping its careful attention to how place, family, and local customs shape personalities–and how an instant can change all that. Another unspeakable incident, the brutal killing of Sean Penn’s 19-year-old daughter, reunites the childhood friends as men. Heading the investigation, Kevin Bacon discovers that a number of locals have no alibi for the night of the crime, but none more suspiciously than Tim Robbins, whose natural meekness starts to look a lot like guilt. In outline, Mystic River is little more than a standard police procedural, but Eastwood and screenwriter Brian Helgeland follow Lehane’s lead, letting the action play out at a pace which reveals the murder as a community tragedy which crashes the past against the present. The actors match the gravity of their surroundings, Robbins balancing barely concealed anger with unconcealed pain, Penn beautifully capturing a man who’s fought his way into goodness, and Bacon finally finding a role that makes the most of his gift for understatement. It works so well as a showcase for their performances (and those of supporting players Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney, Laurence Fishburne, and relative newcomer Tom Guiry), and as a study of their aluminum-sided world, that the inevitable revelations of the mystery plot almost sidetrack a film that’s more about fragile lives than clues and plot twists. Eastwood knows this, however, and he ultimately lets observations on character, community, and the tidal patterns of tragedy shoulder a burden an ordinary murder mystery never could. [Keith Phipps]

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17 / 25

The Night Comes For Us

The Night Comes For Us

Illustration for article titled The best crime movies on Netflix
Photo: Eriekn Juragan/Netflix

Fusing the themes of a classic Hong Kong action movie with the mayhem of a modern Indonesian martial-arts flick and enough gore to satisfy fans of extreme, midnight-circuit horror, Timo Tjahjanto’s The Night Comes For Us takes “heroic bloodshed” to a new level of indescribable, gut-splattered ickiness. As is often the case, the symbol of innocence takes the form of a little girl: Joe Taslim is the dangerous killer who’ll stop at nothing to protect her; his The Raid co-star Iko Uwais is the former gangland partner sent to take him down. But the real central conflict in this panorama of death and dismemberment is between the archetypal, coded characters and the heaps of bloodied, chopped-up bodies they leave in their wake. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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18 / 25

Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler

Jake Gyllenhaal
Jake Gyllenhaal
Screenshot: Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler is well worth seeing just for Jake Gyllenhaal’s spectacularly creepy performance. Blinking as little as possible and speaking every line with robotic conviction, he makes Louis the sort of person who discovered early in life that it’s possible to get away with nearly anything so long as one couches one’s words in the right tone, except that he has a truly warped notion of what the right tone is. Even the most obnoxiously persistent door-to-door salesmen have nothing on this guy, who treats everybody he encounters as an obstacle to be politely mowed down with bland verbiage derived from corporate jargon. It’s a mesmerizing turn from an actor who, while frequently quite good, has never really had a breakout role until this one. Nightcrawler gave him a chance to make a lasting impression, and he takes full, fanatical advantage. [Mike D’Angelo]

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19 / 25

Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal Animals

Amy Adams
Amy Adams
Photo: Focus Features

“I’m too cynical to be an artist,” muses a character at around the midpoint of Nocturnal Animals, the second feature by the fashion designer Tom Ford, perhaps winking to the audience of this arch and self-conscious film. For Nocturnal Animals takes dilettantism as a principle; Ford, who previously directed A Single Man, is a mimic and an unapologetic aesthete, and his liberal adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel Tony And Susan operates on the cusp of satire, playing with insincerity and indulgence as it conveys the workings of a reader’s imagination. Its three interrelated stories reflect and obscure one another in equal measure: a Los Angeles drama about the ennui and mores of the modish rich, focused on a gallery owner married to a nearly bankrupt businessman; a violent thriller about a family man seeking revenge against Texas hicks, which is actually a novel manuscript by the gallery owner’s estranged first husband; and a failed romance, set in the early years of the relationship between the former couple, childhood friends from Texas who reconnect in New York. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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20 / 25

Ocean’s 13

Ocean’s 13

Matt Damon, George Clooney, and Brad Pitt
Matt Damon, George Clooney, and Brad Pitt
Screenshot: Ocean’s 13

Deep into Ocean’s 13, the second sequel to the 2001 remake of the 1960 Rat Pack classic Ocean’s 11, there’s a line about how a good con man never repeats a gag. It’s delivered as a throwaway piece of dialogue, but it quietly acknowledges that what good con men can’t get away with, good directors sometimes can. Rebounding from the frothy, bloodless Euro jaunt Ocean’s 12, 13 returns Steven Soderbergh and crew to Las Vegas for a film that isn’t exactly a remake of their first Ocean’s adventure, but isn’t exactly not, either. It doesn’t matter. Ocean’s 11's easy chemistry and effortless style return alongside the let’s-take-down-a-casino plot. In this case, the target is the gorgeous—and fictional—Bank Casino, a spiraling, faintly Asian-themed high-rise run by Al Pacino and his scantily clad aide de camp Ellen Barkin. Having sent Elliott Gould into a coma after cheating him out of his rightful stake in the casino, Pacino rouses the ire of Clooney and his crew, who conspire to take him and his elaborately defended gambling palace down. The pleasure here, as before, comes from watching skilled professionals team up for a job well done. [Keith Phipps]

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21 / 25

S.W.A.T.

S.W.A.T.

Colin Ferrell
Colin Ferrell
Screenshot: S.W.A.T.

S.W.A.T. begins with familiar material–the half-remembered ‘70s cop show of the same name–and makes it feel fresh and vital. The movie stars Samuel L. Jackson as a cocky veteran who commands a S.W.A.T. team headlined by Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez, and LL Cool J. Archetypal cops-who-play-by-their-own-rules, they face a worthy foe in imprisoned French master criminal Olivier Martinez, who offers $100 million to anyone who helps him escape. The offer is taken up by what seems like half the thugs in Los Angeles. Television long ago eclipsed film as the premier forum for police drama, and one of the exciting things about S.W.A.T. is that it offers the best of both worlds, combining the scrappiness of a top-notch detective show with the resources and iconic names of a summer blockbuster. As the team leader, Jackson finds exactly the right tone for the role: a sort of playful cockiness that comes from knowing just how good he is. He’s clearly having fun, but he never winks at the audience too much or allows his performance to devolve into camp. The same goes for the film, which is by turns brawny and agile. Though less fleet-footed in its plot-centered second half, it remains balanced while treading into progressively more ridiculous territory. [Nathan Rabin]

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22 / 25

Shutter Island

Shutter Island

Leonardo DiCaptrio
Leonardo DiCaptrio
Screenshot: Shutter Island

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a U.S. marshal summoned to Shutter Island after a female patient mysteriously disappears. As DiCaprio and his partner (Mark Ruffalo) make inquiries of the patients and staff, they’re baffled first by the seeming impossibility of the woman leaving a locked cell and slipping past security, and second by her escape off a rock that makes Alcatraz look like the county pen. All investigative avenues appear to lead to Ben Kingsley, the Dr. Moreau of this experimental facility, who treats his inmates as patients rather than criminals, but seems to be hiding a darker agenda. For his part, DiCaprio brings his own share of personal baggage: He’s haunted by memories of liberating Dachau, and his wife’s death in an apartment fire. What begins as a simple missing-person procedural slowly morphs into full-on psychological horror, as more disturbing revelations come to pass and the stress on DiCaprio starts eating away at his nerves. Director Martin Scorsese renders his hero’s nightmares in vivid Technicolor flashbacks and dream sequences that insistently bleed into reality and cloud his judgment. Scorsese’s talent for aligning the audience with a single character’s obsession pays off brilliantly as Shutter Island unfolds, and potent single-scene turns by Jackie Earle Haley and Patricia Clarkson draw it further into the darkness. Shutter Island may initially seem like a nerve-jangling genre piece in the Cape Fear mold, but it’s more like Scorsese’s The Shining, a horror show where it’s sometimes hard to tell the haunted from those doing the haunting. [Scott Tobias]

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23 / 25

Training Day

Training Day

Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke in Training Day
Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke in Training Day
Photo: Warner Bros. (Getty Images)

Mere hours into his first day of training for a position in an elite anti-narcotics branch of the Los Angeles Police Department, Ethan Hawke’s view of the streets begins to change. Specifically, he starts to see them through the hazy, clouded high of PCP-dusted marijuana, a drug forced on him at gunpoint by his potential new boss, veteran cop Denzel Washington. Is Washington giving Hawke a crash course in the realities of his new beat, or simply revealing himself as a bad lieutenant of the worst kind? For much of its run time, Training Day plays directly off this disturbing ambiguity, leading a tour of the thinly guarded border between cops and criminals. Far removed from the innate goodness of most Washington roles, it’s a remarkable performance, landing somewhere between Dirty Harry and Orson Welles’ petty tyrant from Touch Of Evil. A penetrating screenplay by David Ayer helps make it possible. Ayer’s previous efforts (The Fast And The Furious, U-571) never suggested Training Day’s command of characters in moral twilight, and the similarly blossoming director Antoine Fuqua rises to the script’s challenges. Given a showcase for acting and writing, Fuqua brings a relaxed, quietly stylish approach to much of Training Day. As goes the director, so goes his other leading man. Once more apt to deliver a collection of youth-in-rebellion gestures than a performance, Hawke has been developing into a far more interesting actor since The Newton Boys and, especially, Hamlet. His ability to hold his own against Washington says all that needs saying. [Keith Phipps]

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24 / 25

Uncut Gems

Uncut Gems

Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems
Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems
Photo: A24

Expanding the frenetic, panic-attack-inducing cinema of Good Time with novelistic ambition, the brothers Josh and Benny Safdie created a thrilling study of one man’s compulsive self-destruction with this tragicomedy about a hustling Manhattan jewelry dealer (Adam Sandler, in the best performance of his career) who owes a fortune in gambling debts. Already on the brink of implosion, Sandler’s Howard Ratner can’t stop making bets, convinced that his financial (and personal) salvation will come by way of a grapefruit-size lump of Ethiopian black opal. He’s reckless, neurotic, self-deluding, an addict, equal parts sucker and scammer—and perhaps more like us than we’d care to admit. Packed with memorable supporting characters (and impressive turns from newcomers like Julia Fox, Keith Williams Richards, and NBA star Kevin Garnett, who plays himself), Uncut Gems establishes the Safdies as masters of anxious existential grit; their style of overlapping dialogue and tension feels like the unlikely fusion of Robert Altman and Abel Ferrara. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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