Dennis Farina, the ex-cop-turned-actor, died of a blood clot on Monday, and with him, America lost one of the finest character actors to ever step foot on the big or small screens. While Farina’s work on television cannot be ignored — Law And Order, Luck, New Girl, and (our personal favorite) Crime Story — his performances on the big screen were always intense, focused, and so Italian that you felt like he was going to whack you at any minute. With that said, we’ve put together our five favorite Dennis Farina films.
(DISCLAIMER: You won’t find Saving Private Ryan on here because, while his role is memorable, he’s too absent through most of the movie for it to warrant selection here. Still, check it out. Incredible film.)
5. Get Shorty
In Get Shorty, Farina played Ray “Bones” Barboni, the villain to John Travolta’s Chili Palmer. Through an unfortunate set of circumstances, Palmer finds himself working for Barboni. Farina added the right touch of humor and menace for a crime caper that was supposed to take itself seriously. Thanks to Farina, and the Elmore Leonard source material, it succeeded.
4. Striking Distance
While Dennis Farina isn’t the all-out villain in this electric action-mystery, he certainly doesn’t make things easy on his nephew (and the film’s hero) Tom Hardy, played by Bruce Willis. Willis has left the police department for a job as a river boat patrolman, but the killer isn’t through with him after the events at the film’s opening. Farina kiboshes Willis’s attempts to get help from the police, but is he doing it because he thinks his nephew’s gone off the deep end, or is there a more sinister secret he’s hiding?
Snatch, Guy Ritchie’s 2000 gangster drama, isn’t the best gangster movie ever made, but it is certainly one of the best casted. As Cousin Avi, an American hood and jeweler, Farina more than held his own with a talented group of younger stars including Benicio del Toro, Brad Pitt, Jason Statham, and the always terrifying Vinnie Jones. This was one of those moments in an actor’s career where he either retreats into the past, or he proves to be just as viable as he ever was. The fact we’re still talking about Dennis Farina in 2013, and his death was preceded by memorable turns in New Girl, one of TV’s most popular shows just this year, is proof enough that he succeeded.
One of the few early Dennis Farina movies where you actually felt like you could relax around the guy was also one of his most intense thrillers. Farina was the original Jack Crawford in the 1986 Michael Mann serial killer drama Manhunter. The role was later played by Scott Glenn in Silence Of The Lambs, Harvey Keitel in Red Dragon (a remake of Manhunter, which was based on the novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris), and most recently, by Laurence Fishburne in the TV series Hannibal. For those of us growing up in the 1980s, though, there is only one Jack, and it’s Farina.
1. Midnight Run
Martin Brest (Beverly Hills Cop) directed this action-comedy starring Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin as a lovable bounty hunter and embezzler pair on the run from the mob. By all accounts, the film is a comedy with some cool explosions and chase scenes that still hold up today. But unlike action-comedies of today, you actually feared for these characters because of Farina’s intensity in the role of heavy Jimmy Serrano. Farina is fierce throughout the film, even when he’s picking up a few laughs, and the final confrontation still leaves me on the edge of my seat because you know his Serrano isn’t the kind of guy, who’ll stand there lecturing you an hour before pulling the trigger. He will pull the trigger, period.
If you only know the man through his most recent work, we highly recommend you get your hands on the five flicks listed above. Which Dennis Farina movies were your favorites?