Directed by Michael Tuchner
Starring Richard Burton
It’s odd to praise a movie that was credited with ruining Richard Burton’s career. Not because I’m recommending a “bad movie,” but because it’s a reminder of how subjective this whole criticism thing is. It’s also a reminder of how powerful bad-buzz can be on someone’s career, despite their A-list status. “Villain” actually sheds light on how talented Burton was as an actor. It’s an all time great performance and an unforgettable character.
Terrifying sociopaths and psychopaths appear regularly on the big screen, but we’re more familiar with them in thrillers. The ones we see in gangster movies always tend to be charming, despite their homicidal tendencies. Think about Henry Hill high on cocaine complaining about his babysitter. Makes you smile, right? Villain is rightfully titled because it showcases a career gangster exactly as he’d be seen by those unfortunate enough to know him. This is the kind of gangster movie you enjoy without a smile.
Burton plays Vic Dakin, a character inspired by notorious London gangster Ronald Kray. Dakin is a bi-sexual rapist with a mother complex and an ambition to be the kind of big-time gangster that he’s not disciplined enough to become. He blackmails a politician, blurs the line between sex and violence in order to terrorize an underling, and generally terrifies most of his criminal peers. His story isn’t riveting because of intricate plot points. It’s interesting because we get to see someone operate in a world they are not wired to fit into. This movie predates Taxi Driver, but offers us a similar character study and that is why it’s both important and entertaining. You can’t watch a movie like Villain without questioning what goes on in other people’s heads. When you ride public transportation, go to the beach, go to the super market… Are you standing next to a person who is capable of something heinous? It’s possible.