Most people are annoying.
It doesn’t matter whether they’re a droning colleague, that snarky online twat who just won’t see sense, some random queue jumper, a younger sibling, the halitosis-afflicted taxi driver taking the long way round, a right wing foreign president, a neighbor loudly playing music or that hotty in the supermarket who looks straight through you.
At least, this has been my experience. Perhaps that’s why I rarely venture out and instead pretend a life of watching movies is not only an acceptable, hassle-free alternative to dealing with the hoi polloi but also a rich and rewarding one.
Whatever the case, the cinematic worlds I spend so much time within strongly suggest I’m not the only one who’s had to grin and bear it. I guess that’s part of the attraction of movies. They make you feel less alone.
Anyhow, here are three characters who take the biscuit when it comes to winding up others.
The sexist pig truck driver in Thelma and Louise (1991)
What is it that happens to some guys when they slip behind the wheel? Why does a combination of locomotion and being encased within metal and glass so routinely turn them into aggressive, mouthy nobs?
Even harmless little me has been on the receiving end of this phenomenon. More than once I’ve been strolling down the street minding my own business only for a couple of guys to zoom past yelling “Wanker!” It’s baffling behavior, but it’s often worse for women who have to put up with such stuff as “Show us yer tits!” and “How much for a fuck?”
Boy, am I glad I’ve grown out of that behavior.
In one of Ridley Scott’s best efforts he gives us the personification of sexist vulgarity in the marvelous, knuckle-dragging form of Marco St. John. He plays an unnamed truck driver, initially appearing courteous as our heroines cruise up behind his massive tanker. He indicates for them to pass on the straight stretch of highway, prompting Thelma (Geena Davis) to say: “Oh, isn’t that nice? Truck drivers are always so nice.”
But Marco’s civility is what is known as lulling someone into a false sense of security. The first clue he’s not the most progressive chap is his mud flaps being adorned with the mirrored silhouettes of a busty, reclining woman. As Thelma and Louise pull up alongside, Marco’s still on his best behavior, grinning down from his cab and waving.
Man, he’s good at this false sense of security thing.
The oblivious Thelma says thanks and waves back which, of course, prompts him to reveal his true colors. Out pops his waggling tongue like a sexed-up electric eel. Christ, is this how he performs cunnilingus? He must get lockjaw in forty-five seconds flat.
The women nip ahead, expressing their disgust as Marco keeps honking in the background. Thelma shakes her head. “That’s gross! What’s he gotta do that for, anyway?” Louise (Susan Sarandon), whom we’ve come to rely on as the sassier and smarter of the two, offers her interpretation. “They think we like it,” she says. “They think it turns us on.”
Men don’t engage in such crassness to ‘turn women on.’ Even a shithead like our unenlightened truck driver knows that. They do it to intimidate.
But by the time the girls bump into Marco again it’s a different ball game, their calamitous road trip having been indelibly soured by contact with one male shitkicker after another.
And Marco ain’t gonna do anything to change any of that. Now he’s wolf whistling and treating them to his gift of the gab. “Hey, baby!” he cries. “You ready for a big dick?” (Well, to be fair, such a blunt verbal approach has gotta expend a good deal less energy than all that manic pseudo-cunnilingus stuff).
Now it’s Thelma and Louise’s turn to have a go at the false sense of security thing. They all stop at a dusty outpost, which leads to the pitiful shots of Marco squirting freshener into his mouth and removing his wedding ring, as if he doesn’t want his imminent conquests to think badly of him for cheating on his wife. Clearly energized, he jumps out of his cab, dances on the spot and blows his waiting belles a kiss.
Things don’t quite go as planned, though.
“We think you have really bad manners,” Thelma tells him.
Marco can only laugh.
“Where do you get off behaving like that with women you don’t even know?” Louise adds. “How’d you feel if somebody did that to your mother? Or your sister? Or your wife?”
“Huh?” is his only response, giving us a sense not of evil or even hardcore misogyny but lamentable ignorance. This is a man with an inability to read body language, pick up on the women’s tone of voice, hold a conversation or even muster a retort. By now an apology for his ungentlemanly antics is being demanded, but Marco’s not the sort to say sorry to the gentler sex. Within seconds, his rig’s tires are being shot out before his beloved truck is blown to kingdom come. The girls can only look on in open-mouthed wonder as poor Marco sinks to his knees against a backdrop of burning ruins. “You bitches!” he yells while waving both fists in the air. “You bitches from hell!”
This is a magnificently satisfying piece of cinema, so memorable that I have little doubt it provides the perfect fodder for female revenge fantasies. In other words, fellahs, watch your mouths the next time you’re cruising around and happen to spot a female or two coz one day you might just bump into a pair ‘ready to get serious’ all over your ass.
The weaselly parole officer in Straight Time (1978)
None of us like having a boss. Even as children we chafed against mum and dad making us eat our veggies or go to bed at a certain time. Let’s face it, other people telling us what to do sucks.
Well, in the lesser known crime drama Straight Time, newly released prisoner Max Dembo (Dustin Hoffman) is in the glum position of being back on the street but barely having control over anything. He still has to meet his rigid parole conditions, a requirement made a hundred times worse by his supervisor Earl Frank (M. Emmet Walsh) being a controlling pain in the ass.
Now Walsh is not a household name, but you probably know him from supporting performances in such quality fare as Serpico, Slap Shot, Blade Runner and especially Blood Simple. This guy’s been around. In Straight Time he’s great, really, really great, and spends every onscreen moment unwisely annoying the shit out of the desperately-trying-to-comply, seemingly reformed Dembo.
Upon their first meeting at the Department of Corrections, we see Frank’s a paunchy, balding, mildly disheveled man. He neither wears a tie nor sits up straight in his chair. Dembo actually looks the more together of the two, but there’s no doubt about who’s in charge. At first Frank’s polite and courteous, but this is the thinnest of masks, and his contempt for Dembo’s criminal past soon starts radiating off him. Things threaten to turn ugly when Frank is dissatisfied with Dembo’s explanation for spending the previous night at a motel instead of a halfway house.
“I just spent six years in prison,” Dembo tells him. “I just wanted to look at the lights, wanted to feel free, wanted to walk around, not have somebody tell me I gotta get in bed at ten o’clock.”
Frank jumps in with both feet, telling Dembo he has a ‘serious attitude problem.’ In that one line, we know he’s got it in for the ex-con. “My friend,” he says, flashing his practiced fake smile, “I see that you’re gonna force me to deal with you.”
And deal with him he does, later resorting to snooping around his room and slapping handcuffs on him after finding a book of matches that one of Dembo’s mates had used to cook heroin. Sincere protests about his innocence are not only a waste of time but music to Frank’s ears. Suddenly Dembo’s back inside for a suspected parole violation, losing his newly acquired job and home as a result.
And, of course, when his drug test proves to be clean, that insincere bastard Frank is there to belatedly pick him up and return him to the halfway house while lording it over his charge every minute of the way.
Fucking hell, Frank’s a pathetic son of a bitch. Even when he’s not reminding Dembo who’s boss, his attempts at chitchat reveal him to be a vaguely bigoted bore. He’s insincere, condescending and in possession of a misplaced superiority complex. Most of all, he loves the power he wields over Dembo, obviously seeing himself as a cat playing with a mouse. But just like our sexist pig truck driver, he badly misjudges the situation, leading to a fantastic, richly deserved denouement that’s on a par with Marco’s fate.
Walsh is brilliant throughout and I love the way he instantly switches between apparent helpfulness and petty vindictiveness. His jagged interplay with the quietly seething Hoffman, which puts the viewer in the curious position of rooting for the imminent menace to society, is a joy to behold.
The world’s worst house guest in Sexy Beast (2000)
“People say: Don’t you miss it, Gal? I say, what? England? Nah. Fucking place. It’s a dump. Don’t make me laugh. Grey, grimy, sooty. What a shithole. What a toilet. Every cunt with a long face shuffling about moaning, all worried. No thanks, not for me.”
It’s fair to say that the cashed-up ex-crim Gal (Ray Winstone) has no regrets about moving to sunny Spain. He spends pretty much every day lounging by the pool working on his tan, eating calamari at his favorite restaurant, hanging out with friends, and dancing in the balmy night-time air with his beloved wife.
Well, apart from a rolling, bouncing hillside boulder missing his head by inches, the barbecue flames leaping out in an apparent bid to incinerate him, and weird dreams about man-sized rabbits hunting him.
It’s almost as if such ominous signs suggest trouble’s afoot in paradise.
Then Gal gets news of a London phone call through his friends. The very much non-retired Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) wants him for a bank heist and is on his way over from England. Gal’s wife gives a simple response: “Oh, Christ.”
Gal might as well have been told that a human combination of the Prince of Darkness, Ebola and nuclear war is coming to visit. Gal can’t think of an excuse to decline, any kind of sop that will lessen the force of the approaching tornado. Suddenly a funereal pall is hanging over his luxurious villa with every character drained of color and looking like they’re about to gnaw off their fingernails.
Gal’s wife suggests an impromptu holiday, prompting him to sigh. “That would be like a red rag to a bull,” he says.
And with this foreboding brilliantly established, we finally get to meet the bald, goateed Don as he confidently strides through the airport like The Long Good Friday’s Harold Shand. Accompanied by thumping, energetic music that suggests unchecked momentum, Don doesn’t smile. Neither does he sweetly pinch the cheeks of any children. He’s a model of concentration, moving forward with eyes fixed like a shark zeroing in on a hapless target.
Gal does his best to politely say no. He really does. “I’d do anything not to offend ya, but I can’t take part,” he tells him. “I’m not really up to it.”
Don half-smiles. “Is this a fuck off, Gal?”
From this point on Don turns into a relentlessly cajoling, haranguing, capricious force of nature who uses words to slash like a shit-smeared knife. There’s no intimidating trick he won’t try whether it’s a prolonged, unnerving stare, childishly repeating words like a schoolyard bully, rhapsodizing about your wife’s porno past or kicking you in the face while you’re sleeping.
Then, of course, there’s his exceptional talent in channeling his inner drill instructor Hartman and letting fly with an amazing array of creative insults.
“You’re revolting,” he spits at Gal. “Look at your fucking suntan. Like leather. Like a leather man, your skin. You could make a fucking suitcase out of you. A holdall. You look like a crocodile. A fat crocodile. Fat bastard. You look like Idi Amin.”
Now suggesting the paunchy Gal resembles the black, grotesquely obese Ugandan dictator is taking things a bit too far, but that’s Don Logan in a nutshell. He does take things too far.
Not that a way over the top slur results in him finishing trying to grind Gal down. There’s just no letup in the verbal barrage whether they’re in a bar, at the beach, sitting by the pool or in the car.
“What do you think this is? The Wheel of Fortune? Make your dough and fuck off? Leave the table? Thanks, Don. See ya, Don. Off to sunny Spain now. Lie in your pool like a fat blob laughing at me. You think I’m gonna have that?”
Perhaps my favorite bit, though, is the moment when we glimpse a different side of the world’s worst conversationalist after Gal reveals he’s happy living a retired life in Spain.
“I won’t let you be happy,” Don shrilly counters, laying bare his essential pitifulness. “Why should I?”
The Oscar-nominated Kingsley shines during his nightmare cocktail of motor-mouthed aggression, instantaneous violence, chilling paranoia and plain old stubbornness. He puts in a shift that has to be one of cinema’s greatest examples of casting an actor against type.