Why You Love This Decade's Movie Villains We know the trouble with the good guy: He's always so, well — good. It's boring. It's the bad guy we want to figure out. NPR film critic Bob Mondello says he knows the dark secrets of good movie villains and why we love them.
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Why You Love This Decade's Movie Villains

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Why You Love This Decade's Movie Villains

Why You Love This Decade's Movie Villains

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GUY RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz, and I'm rolling out the welcome mat for our movie critic, Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of film, "Psycho")

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of screaming)

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: That's Bob Psycho-Killer Mondello. Welcome to the show.

BOB MONDELLO: Thank you.

RAZ: So we're playing the "Psycho" theme music for a reason, Bob. We actually asked you to be with us on the weekends this month to talk about some of the more intriguing moments in film from the past 10 years, not top 10 lists, right?

MONDELLO: Thank you, thank you.

RAZ: Okay. So today, we asked to you to come up with some of the decade's most notable screen villains. Now, Bob, what sort of characteristics does a good movie villain have to have?

MONDELLO: Well, if you think about this the same way Shakespeare did, for instance, a villain is someone who's just like the hero. He has all kinds of reasons for what he believes, and they're good reasons. They're good to him; they may not be good to the rest of the society. So therefore, he becomes kind of empathetic. You actually care about him and his reasons for doing things.

Think about, for instance, Heath Ledger as The Joker in "Dark Knight."

RAZ: Oh, yeah.

MONDELLO: He's a cartoon villain who's more than a cartoon. Take some of those weirdly diametrically opposed origin myths that he was spouting for his sliced-up smile, remember he has that horrible smile. Here, The Joker explains how he got those scars as his drunken father was killing his mother.

(Soundbite of film, "The Dark Knight")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HEATH LEDGER (Actor): (As The Joker) He turns to me, and he says: Why so serious? He comes at me with a knife: Why so serious? He sticks the blade in my mouth: Let's put a smile on that face. And why so serious?

MONDELLO: Now, you see how you were feeling sorry for him when he's telling that story? And that's - I think that's the point: The villain needs to have a real reason for what he's doing.

RAZ: Okay, let's look at a real-life villain for a moment. It seems that some of the worst characters in real life make for some of the best movie subjects.

MONDELLO: Well, that's certainly true of some. I mean, I think Idi Amin, for instance, in "The Last King of Scotland" was really grim.

RAZ: Forest Whitaker.

MONDELLO: Yeah, he was absolutely great in it, and Charlize Theron as the serial killer Aileen Wuornos in 2003's "Monster."

(Soundbite of film, "Monster")

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. CHARLIZE THERON (Actor): (As Aileen Wuornos) People kill each other every day, and for what? Hmm? For politics, for religion, and they're heroes. No, no, there's a lot of (BEEP) I can't do anymore, but killing's not one of them, and letting those (BEEP) bastards out there go and rape somebody else isn't either.

Ms. CHRISTINA RICCI (Actor): (As Selby Wall) No, Lee, that was one man. They can't all have been bad.

Ms. THERON: (As Aileen) You know me. You think I could do it otherwise? I'm not a bad person. I'm a real, good person, right?

RAZ: That was such a creepy�

MONDELLO: And the thing is, I mean, you know, she had to make herself ugly for the role.

RAZ: Yeah.

MONDELLO: An attractive serial killer would not have flown somehow, but there's an interesting thing going on there about a star who sort of transforms herself into someone ugly, both inside and out, but who still - she's accustomed to making characters who you care about, and so you did care about that character deeply as you're watching it. She's a fascinating villain.

RAZ: You know, some of the scariest villains that I've seen over the past decade are these sociopath types, these guys that are just totally cool, that seem to have absolutely no moral compass.

MONDELLO: Right, where you can't figure out what they are thinking, which is -so the empathy isn't flowing sort of naturally. The one this decade that really got to me was Tom Cruise in "Collateral." He was a contract killer, and he, at one point - the clip we have comes right after he has thrown somebody off a rooftop, and he's talking to his taxi driver.

(Soundbite of film, "Collateral")

Mr. JAMIE FOXX (Actor): (As Max) What did he do to you?

Mr. TOM CRUISE (Actor): (As Vincent) Nothing. I only met him tonight.

Mr. FOXX: (As Max) You just met him once and you kill him like that?

Mr. CRUISE: (As Vincent) What, I should only kill people after I get to know them? Max, six billion people on the planet, you're getting bent out of shape 'cause of one fat guy.

Mr. FOXX: (As Max) Well, who was he?

Mr. CRUISE: (As Vincent) What do you care? Have you ever heard of Rwanda?

Mr. FOXX: (As Max) Yes, I know Rwanda.

Mr. CRUISE: (As Vincent) Well, tens of thousands killed before sundown. Nobody's killed people that fast since Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Did you bat an eye, Max?

Mr. FOXX: (As Max) What?

Mr. CRUISE: Did you join Amnesty International, Oxfam, Save the Whale, Greenpeace or something? No. I off one fat Angelino and you throw a hissy fit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: Ooh.

MONDELLO: You know, Villains also are wonderfully articulate. The kind of nice thing about them is that they're�

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: They're always intelligent.

MONDELLO: Exactly, and I think, you know, the idea of a twisted genius is part of this. What you do when you look at an Iago in Shakespeare, in "Othello," is you try and figure out why. Why is he doing this? I think that's what almost always is what's interesting about villains.

RAZ: And Bob, we should stress that this list that we've put together in no way is comprehensive. We didn't talk about Javier Bardem in "No Country For Old Men" or Daniel Day-Lewis in "Gangs of New York." There are too many over the past decade.

MONDELLO: No, there have been a lot, and I have a zillion favorites. Actually, I hope our listeners do, too, and that they will scribble in something to our Web site.

RAZ: I hope they do. Bob Mondello reviews films for this program, and as he just mentioned, we want to hear from you. Tell us some of your picks from the past decade at npr.org. And Bob, I know some people think critics are villains, but please stop wearing that Joker makeup around the office, okay?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: I'm a sweetheart. I'm a total sweetheart, I promise.

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