Actors are often drawn to lowdown characters, even hardened criminals like murdering bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde or ruthless mobster Whitey Bulger. Not only are these characters interesting but it is also a major acting challenge to convincingly play these villains, especially if they are based on real people. Here are 8 performances in true crime movies that seemed frighteningly real.
1. Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde
If Hollywood had invented this crime romance about two bank-robbing lovers who evaded law enforcement during a string of notorious crimes, no one would believe it. But these depression-era criminals were real, and Faye Dunaway's portrayal of Bonnie Parker in the 1967 biopic co-starring Warren Beatty, was stunningly authentic. Villainous roles have become Dunaway's specialty. Remember her in Mommie Dearest?
2. Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street
Under the direction of frequent collaborator Martin Scorsese, actor/filmmaker Leonardo DiCaprio gives an impressive and powerful performance in this 2013 black comedy, as famously corrupt stock broker Jordan Belfort, who made a fortune in his twenties and proceeded to get swept up in a world of greed, hedonism and corporate crime. DiCaprio managed to hold moviegoers' interest as this very flawed character, and earned praise from critics.
3. Nicole Kidman in To Die For
It's really unsettling to see someone as sweet and well-adjusted as Nicole Kidman playing a manipulative sociopath, especially when she does it so well. In this 1995 true-crime drama co-starring Matt Dillon and Joaquin Phoenix, Kidman delivers a chilling performance as an aspiring TV news anchor Suzanne Stone, who convinces her teenage lover and his friends to kill her husband.
4. Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon
Al Pacino has given many amazing performances but his depiction John Wojtowicz, a bisexual husband and father who attempts a bank robbery-turned hostage stand-off, to finance his lover's sex change operation in this 1975 crime dramedy, is among his very best. He's one of the few actors who could pull off a complex anti-hero this well. Pacino's portrayal was highly acclaimed by critics and by the real John Wojtowicz.
5. Joanne Whalley in Scandal
Convicted of perjury and conspiracy, showgirl Christine Keeler was suspected of even worse. She is best remembered for her part in the political sex scandal known as the Profumo Affair, which rocked Britain in the 1960s. More believable in the role of a potentially dangerous seductress than Keeler herself, Joanne Whalley captivated audiences with her 1989 portrayal of the sex kitten who was perceived as being a national security threat because of her possibly simultaneous relationships with Britain's secretary of war, John Profumo, and Soviet diplomat Eugene Ivanov.
6. Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures
Although Kate Winslet has wowed us in movies with her diverse performances over the years, she is best known for playing virtuous characters. But Winslet proved she can tackle criminals just as convincingly when she played Juliet Hulme, a young woman who helps her best friend Paulina Parker to murder Paulina's mother, in this 1994 drama. The killing was revenge for being separated by their parents because of the girls' obsessive relationship in early 1950s New Zealand.
7. Johnny Depp in Black Mass
His depiction of infamous Irish gangster Whitey Bulger in this 2015 crime-drama inspired rave reviews from critics like Christopher Orr of The Atlantic who said: "The role is Depp's best in many years, and a welcome respite from the parade of prancing pseudo-villains..." Depp proved that he can still channel ruthlessness, as this mobster who tries to dominate Boston's crime scene by helping an FBI agent to eliminate the Italian Mob.
8. Charlize Theron in Monster
She won an Oscar for her role as Aileen Wuornos in this intense 2004 drama about a prostitute who murders many of her Johns. A lot of actors can play villains, but it takes exceptional talent to convince audiences you're a serial-killing prostitute that they can almost empathize with. Starring opposite Christina Ricci, who plays her lover, Theron inhabits the character of this complex abuse victim-turned deranged murderess, in one of her most indelible movies.