The Stylish Thriller

No, not Michael Jackson’s Thriller, film thrillers! I’ve alluded to my film preferences enough that it’s time for a post on it!

My favourite films are all stylish thrillers.

Oh, that wasn’t a surprise given the post title? I guess not. Read on anyway for the explanatory ramblings!So, “stylish thriller”. You could probably already guess what I mean fairly accurately, but the fastest way to make sure we’re all on the same wavelength is to run through some examples. Here’s a list of 6 recent-ish Hollywood films, pick out the 2 I consider “Stylish Thrillers”

  1. The Departed
  2. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy
  3. The Fast & The Furious
  4. Mr & Mrs Smith
  5. Collateral
  6. The Dark Knight



How did you do? For me, the things I really love in a film are a focus on characters reacting and developing in response to extraordinary situations -thats the thriller part – and, well, style. I know style is hugely subjective and even for this blog where I’m trying to write about it, I’m afraid I have to fall back on the old adage of “I know it when i see it”, but broadly I’m after exceptional cinematography that isn’t afraid of using symbolism. The “right” answers are 1 and 5, but it’s deliberately a tight field!

As for the losers (and I’ll stress that these are good films, they just don’t meet my exacting criteria): Tinker Tailor is out; it’s more of a mystery than a thriller. Mr & Mrs Smith doesn’t meet either criteria, it’s too formulaic a blockbuster and that means predictable characters. Dark Knight is close, but the main character doesn’t really have any development. Finally, we have the first Fast & Furious, which you might have discounted because the recent ones are firmly action-comedies, but the first one really is a surprisingly tight film. I don’t count it though because it’s too much an action film.

We’re left with films where often, in the final scene you’re not entirely sure who you want to win; films where you’re definitely sure the “winner” won’t be seeing it that way; films where certain scenes and shots stick with you, not because of what happens or what’s said but because they’re just that good. It goes without saying that these films often require incredible acting performances to make them work.

I could go heaping on the superlatives, but the best way to experience these films is to set aside 2 and a half hours where you won’t be disturbed and just lose yourself in one of these stories.

  • One of the defining films of this to me is Heat; De Niro is a bank robber and Pacino is the detective trying to stop him. Some truly incredible scenes, both physically and emotionally.
  • From the same director is Collateral; Jamie Foxx is a taxi driver who has to deal with Tom Cruise playing a very demanding fare.
  • Black Rain, where 2 American detectives have to escort a prisoner to Tokyo but run into cultural differences.
  • Pacino again in Donnie Brasco (not the one with the weird rabbit and Jake Gyhlenhall, that’s Donnie Darko) where he’s a NY mobster worried about his place in the gang.
  • The Departed (and if you can stand subtitles, the slightly superior Hong Kong original Infernal Affairs) where a mole in the police and a mole in the mafia have to find each other before the other one finds them.
  • Drive, which I mentioned in Monday’s post, about a man who is extremely good at driving and far less good at dealing with people. I rewatch the opening scene until the end of the credits every so often, it’s probably the best getaway in film.
  • I’ve talked about Leon/The Professional before and that definitely has a spot here.
  • And finally, and mostly because every film-related list needs Nic Cage on it, Gone In 60 Seconds, F&F’s slightly more thoughtful cousin.


That’s by no means an exhaustive list; all of them are crime films – it’s a setup that easily affords the impact and emotional responses that are critical while also allowing the tension and action to thrill – but I’m sure there’s examples outside that. A lot of them are also very long, more than a few clock in at over 2 and a half hours. Artistry takes time, it seems.

If you do decide to check these films out,  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.


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