Aaron Sampler in Primal Fear
This Richard Gere vehicle is a forgettable and overblown thriller, with a ludicrous plot and unpleasant anti-Catholic undertones. It does however have one brilliant achievement: an outstanding technical tour de force by Edward Norton in his breakthrough role as an altar boy accused of brutally murdering a Chicago archbishop. With a split-personality disorder that manifests itself as alternately a stuttering wreck and a violent sociopath, Norton, despite his character being incarcerated for most of the film, orchestrates proceedings with Machiavellian cunning. Poor old Richard doesn’t stand a chance.
Redeeming features? You have to grudgingly admire the ingenuity of Stampler’s scheme to avoid execution. Although carving numbers into his victim’s chest seems a bit excessive.
Bobby Peru in Wild at Heart
Willem Dafoe is an actor who has played more than his fair share of creeps and scumbags-with the sort of face that can invoke childhood nightmares, it’s hard not to get typecast. However, few of his characters are so messed up as Bobby Peru, a Texan gangster whose chat up lines are even slimier than his hair. He’s not on screen long but makes a hell of an impression. His scummiest acts include forcing himself on Laura Dern in a motel room and betraying Cage during a bank robbery. He also has teeth that would make British dentists’ wince, and dribbles when he laughs.
Redeeming features? Few, but he claims to have been in the US marines and who doesn’t admire a man who fights for his country?
Anton Chigurgh in No Country for Old Men
The antagonist in the Coen brothers gripping and sombre meditation on evil, Chigurgh is no tongue-in-cheek thug in the manner of the Coens’ earlier work but a frightening force of nature. He is effectively the angel of death, a homicidal monster who kills with fanboy glee (the look of manic bliss on his face as he throttles a police officer with his handcuffs is genuinely horrible). With a voice that sounds like its come from the depths of hell and a haircut to match, the role won actor Javier Bardem a hugely deserved Oscar.
Redeeming features? He spares a garage proprietor who guesses a coin toss correctly. Say what you like about Anton, he sticks to his principles.
Johnny in Naked
Psychologists will no doubt debate the finer points of whether the motor-mouthed protagonist of Mike Leigh’s bleak character study constitutes a true psychopath. But he’s certainly a nasty piece of work. Brilliantly portrayed by that great British character actor David Thewlis (best known as Lupin from the Harry Potter films), he’s a rambling, nihilistic philosopher who has an unpleasant habit of seducing vulnerable women and having violent sex with them.
Redeeming features? He does at least have a sense of humour. “Apparently you shouldn’t put anything in your cunt that you can’t put in your mouth.” “Give us that mug.” Oh that Mancunian wit.