Monday, 19 September 2016


“He who does not prevent a crime when he can, encourages it.” - Lucius Annaeus Seneca

We live in a society where crime is becoming increasingly common and more widespread. It seems that this is the lot of people living in Western countries where affluence is highly visible and very desirable, as it is equated with “success”. No wonder that there is a huge proliferation of films about crime, criminals and the way “justice” is administered and meted out. A crime story is about a crime that is being committed or was committed. It can also be an account of a criminal’s life. It often falls into the action or adventure genres. It can be crafted in a way that is sympathetic to the law enforcement side and where “crime does not pay”, or increasingly there are films where criminals not only commit the crime, but also get away with it. The various sub-genres are:

Courtroom drama: This subgenre presents fictional drama about law. Law enforcement, crime, detective-based mystery solving, lawyer work, civil litigation, etc., are all possible focuses of legal dramas. Common subgenres of legal dramas include detective dramas, police dramas, courtroom dramas, legal thrillers, etc. Legal dramas come in all shapes and sizes and may also span into other forms of media, including novels, plays, television shows, and even radio programs. A classic example of this sub-genre is Sidney Lumet’s 1957 film 12 Angry Men.

Detective story: A story about a detective or person, either professional or amateur, who has to solve a crime that was committed. They must figure out who committed the crime and why. Sometimes, the detective must figure out how the criminal committed the crime if it seems impossible. Related to the “Whodunnit” variant below. A classic French film of this sub-genre is Jean Delannoy’s 1958 movie Inspector Maigret (Maigret tend un piège), based on Georges Simenon’s detective stories.

Whodunnit: This is a complex, plot-driven variety of the detective story in which the audience is given the opportunity to engage in the same process of deduction as the protagonist throughout the investigation of a crime. The reader or viewer is provided with the clues from which the identity of the perpetrator may be deduced before the story provides the revelation itself at its climax. The investigation is usually conducted by an eccentric amateur or semi-professional detective. The classic Agatha Christie novel Murder on the Orient Express is a typical example and it has been committed to film many times, for example the 1974 Sidney Lumet version with Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot.

Gangster: Sub-genre that focuses on gangs, criminal organisations, which provide a level of organisation and resources that support much larger and more complex criminal transactions than an individual criminal could achieve. Gangsters are the subject of many movies, particularly from the period between 1930 and 1960. A revival of gangster type movies took place since the 1990s with the explosion of hip-hop culture. Unlike the earlier gangster films, the newer films share similar elements to the older films but is more in a hip-hop urban setting. William A. Wellman’s 1931 A Public Enemy starring the classic gangster actor James Cagney is a good example. One cannot fail to mention Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 The Godfather (and its many sequels!) in this sub-genre.

Gentleman thief: Centres around particularly well-behaved and apparently well-bred thieves. They rarely bother with anonymity or force, preferring to rely on their charisma, physical attractiveness, and clever misdirection to steal the most unobtainable objects — sometimes for their own support, but mostly for the thrill of the act itself. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 film To Catch A Thief starring the ultimate gentleman, Cary Grant, is such a movie. 

Hardboiled: This is a genre sharing the setting with crime fiction (especially detective stories). Although deriving from romantic tradition, which emphasised the emotions of apprehension, horror and terror, and awe, the hardboiled fiction deviates from the tradition in the detective’s cynical attitude towards those emotions. The attitude is conveyed through the detective’s self-talk describing to the reader (or - in the film - to the viewer) what he is doing and feeling. Robert Aldrich’s 1955 film Kiss Me Deadly based on a Mickey Spillane novel is a good example.

Legal thriller: A subgenre of thriller and crime fiction in which the major characters are lawyers and their employees. The system of justice itself is always a major part of these works, at times almost functioning as one of the characters. In this way, the legal system provides the framework for the legal thriller much as the system of modern police work does for the police procedural. Usually, crusading lawyers become involved in proving their cases (usually their client’s innocence of the crime of which he is accused, or the culpability of a corrupt corporation which has covered up its malfeasance until this point) to such an extent that they imperil their own interpersonal relationships and frequently, their own lives. Tony Gilroy’s 2007 Michael Clayton is such a movie.

Murder mystery: A mystery story focussing on one type of criminal case: Homicide. Usually, there are one or more murder victims, and the detective must figure out who killed them, the same way he or she solves other crimes. They may or may not find themselves or loved ones in danger because of this investigation; the genre often includes elements of the suspense story genre, or of the action and adventure genres. Andrew Grieve’s 2000 movie The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is based on the Agatha Christie novel of the same name.

The Crime genre can become extremely boring and there is only so much crime, detective and lawyers that a poor viewer can take. I find myself tiring of this genre extremely quickly and in order for me to be kept interested there must be seriously good writing, excellent acting and faultless direction, as well as many (entertaining but plausible) plot twists.


  1. Inspector Maigret is a French classic. I bought it (1958 version) for $ 2 at a garage sale in Paddington last year.

  2. "Pour elle" 2008 Vincent Lindon and Diane Kruger. This will have you sitting on the edge of your seat...Recommended.