Chigurh: an ideological approach to both villainy and fashion.
Rejecting material goods in favour of a cast-iron, immovable ideology, Osama Bin Laden was a key influence on the modern cinematic villain. Despite even Terence Malick managing to release more new films over the past few years, the world’s most wanted man has remained a constant presence on our cinema screens. Think of The Joker or Anton Chigurh: they’re obviously all evil when judged against social norms but they’re just following their twisted morals in the pursuit of their own ends. It’s all they know how to do – a bit like a shark, or TV’s Jeremy Kyle.
But now the world’s most famous bearded villain has reached his own final act, it seems we may need to find a new bogeyman to influence our cinematic antagonists. And, in the absence of a suitable heir to the throne of terror, it seems clear that we’re going to have to look to another event in recent history to find our villains: the global financial crisis. Which allows us to resurrect that most loathsome of villains: the greedy bastard.
Unlike the ideologist, the greedy bastard is motivated solely by personal financial gain, which, let’s face it, makes them far more hateable. I’m not sure who would win in a fight between Fred ‘The Shred’ Goodwin and a shark, but I know which one I’d rather see get eaten. And in an industry that feeds on its own young, like a huge expensive hamster, resurrecting the greedy bastard – a hallmark of the 19080s – seems like the perfect opportunity to recycle the ideas of yesteryear while seizing the zeitgeist. It’s basically a win-win for Hollywood. And to make it even easier, I’ve decided to have a look at a few of the most memorable greedy archetypes from the 80s, adding examples of their villainy and, in the interest of catharsis, their downfalls. Spoilers ahoy!
The corporate greedy bastard
As evidenced by: Dick Jones in Robocop
Gordon Gecko may be THE memorable greedy bastard from the 80s, but no one else on this list represents the dual evils of greed and middle management better than Dick Jones. Perennially convinced of his own superiority, while his underlings actually get the job done, Jones is obviously not the most popular guest at the OCP Christmas party. But thanks to a natural ability to talk the talk and use of passive aggressive motivational techniques (not to mention the occasional use of the world’s scariest Milky Bar Man, Clarence Boddicker) to keep everyone in line, no one has managed to obstruct his rise to the pantheon of the OCP Board.
Signs of evil: hubris, unwilling to get his own hands dirty but keen to seize credit, long arms.
Just desserts: Loses job and life after being shot through a window.
The small town greedy bastard
As evidenced by: Brad Wesley in Road House
In many ways Brad Wesley is the epitome of evil arrogance. While Dick Jones masks his true nature beneath a starched collar and the acceptable face of 80s ambition, Brad Wesley is an outright villain. He lays out his stall of evil from the outset: scaring friendly horses with his helicopter, driving badly and wearing pink bathrobes. But what really gets under the skin is that most of us have probably crossed paths with a Brad Wesley in real-life. Sure, he may not have threatened to mount your ass in his trophy room, but with his flagrant disregard for the law, lack of anything approaching a moral compass and tendency to throw money at a problem until it goes away (which it normally does), he’s possibly the most loathsome creep to have ever had a henchmen crushed by a stuffed bear pushed by Patrick Swayze.
In fact Wesley’s evil is so omnipresent that it appears to make money from nowhere. I mean, how else doth one explain the fact that he appears to live on the Neverland ranch, despite the only apparent source of his income coming from a Road House (a kind of disco for the inter-related) that no-one goes to, an old man’s store and a second hand car showroom? Beats me.
Evil hallmarks: attacks own men, drives like an idiot, wears a pink bathrobe, celebrates the killing of small monkeys.
Just desserts: Hero Dalton makes him feel tiny by not killing him, but in the interests of karmic balance he is then blasted by an angry old man with shotgun.
The greedy bastard who pretends not to be a greedy bastard but is really a greedy bastard
As evidenced by: Hans Gruber in Die Hard
In many ways Hans Gruber was a precursor to Bin Laden. While his methods appear to be borne of a radical ideology, in actual fact he’s just after funds from the Nakatomi penny jar to keep him in John Phillips suits. Apparently, this isn’t too far removed from OBL’s existence, as he was alleged to use caves solely for promotional purposes (like Batman) while he spent most of his time in his million dollar house (like Batman) in Pakistan (not like Batman) in a scenario that’s not dissimilar to Wham’s Club Tropicana video – though, presumably, without the free drinks and sunshine, and with fun only occasionally manifesting itself through the burning of litter. In fact he didn’t even have the internet, which is comparable to living in a cave as far as I can tell.
Still, even if Die Hard bears little relation to reality (I know, right?) Gruber is still an out and out wrong ‘un – despite an early attempt to win the viewer’s sympathy by killing beta-villain Ellis.
Evil hallmarks: accent, facial hair, cowardice, kills lovely old man Joseph Takagi at the office party and threatens the equally lovely Bonnie Maclane.
Just desserts: shot through a window and killed by a watch.
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