Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Take Five: Best Jewish Movie Badasses

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 30, 2007

“The Jews have shifted their shapes!”

One of my favorite scenes in Knocked Up is when Seth Rogen and his roommates are chilling in the club before he picks up Katherine Heigl, and they have a discussion about underappreciated movies they recently saw, for which Rogen’s candidate is Munich. His evidence for this is that after a long time of being portrayed in movies as victims, it’s nice to some Jews in flicks that are actually kicking a little ass. “If any of us get laid tonight,” he concludes, “it’s because of Eric Bana in Munich.”

As a fellow Member of the Tribe, I definitely knew what he was talking about–there’s something that’s just really empowering about watching our Jewish brethren in roles that demonstrate some serious (and even occasionally villainous) badassery. You can keep your Schindler’s List, your Exodus, your Martin Landau in Rounders–nothing fills me with more religious pride than watching a Chosen One with a gun and a mean streak. Here’s five of the (unfortunately few) examples, keeping in mind that I’ve still yet to see The Hebrew Hammer:

  1. Greg Weinstein in Boiler Room. Not the movie’s out-and-out villain, per se, but given the last-minute pussing out of Vin Diesel and Ron Rifkin, the disappearance halfway through the movie of Ben Affleck, and the utterly inconsequential nature of Scott Caan, probably the closest thing you’ll find to one in Boiler Room. Nicky Katt always seems sort of evil, anyway–he’s rivaled only by Peter Sarsgaard in that sort of seething, constantly pissed off, fuck you for living look and voice. As J.T. Marlin’s most guiltless shiller, Katt steals almost every scene he’s in–it’s just too bad the movie didn’t really have the balls for him to ever really go all-out on Giovanni Ribisi for stealing his girl and job status.
  2. Sam “Ace” Rothstein in Casino. Marking the second time Robert DeNiro sort of played Jewish (the whole gang of the vastly overrated Once Upon a Time in America were nice Jewish boys), Casino doesn’t give too much outward indication of Rothstein’s faith, besides his last name, his nickname (the gloriously unsubtle “The Golden Jew”) and the countless times Joe Pesci refers to him as a “Jew prick”. However, his character employs that most prevalent of Jewish stereotypes, our handiness with the finance, to a degree that could almost be classified as a superpower–Ace can pick gambling winners in seemingly any field (except of course his marriage to ice queen Sharon Stone) with stunning accuracy. It’s doubtful that he learned his trade in Junior Congregation, but I think his schul would be proud of him nonetheless–he even manages to get out relatively clean at the end, which is no small feat for a Scorsese mobster.
  3. Hyman Roth in The Godfather, Pt. II. In the post-Mel Gibson age, it’s unlikely that Coppola would ever have been able to get away with a villain like Hyman Roth, played by legendary acting coach Lee Strasberg, who exemplifies just about every negative stereotype commonly associated with Judaism, minus the big beard and hand-wringing. Greedy, back-stabbing and extremely finnicky (“a smaller piece,” he reprimands a caterer cutting him a slice of birthday cake at his own party), Roth nonetheless plays one of the Saga’s craftiest and hardest-to-kill enemies, and for that he necessitates mention on this list. (Also worth noting: Alex Rocco as the regrettably arrogant Moe Green in I)
  4. Alan Kleinfeld in Carlito’s Way. Easily the most memorable Jewish villain in Modern Cinema, as well as (uncoincidentally) the most outlandish. The Jewfro’d lawyer Kleinfeld, played by Sean Penn, ends up going kilo-for-kilo with Al Pacino’s cocaine snorting in spiritual predecessor Scarface, and decides to throw over his private practice for the significantly more treacherous but significantly less boring mob world. Penn’s performance is so over-the-top that it arguably qualfiies him for retroactive Give-Back-the-Oscar charges, but the performance has deservedly become a cult classic, and manages to outshine not just Pacino, but even up-and-coming turns from Viggo Mortensen, Luis Guzman, John Leguizamo, and that guy who played the fattest gangster to ever be goaded into a foot chase.
  5. The Entire Camp in Escape from Sobibor. By far the least well known of the movie’s listed here, it’s unlikely you’ve seen (or even heard of) Escape from Sobibor unless, like me, you saw it in Hebrew School. Starring Alan Arkin and Rutger Hauer (not like I knew who they were at the time), it’s not the only Holocaust movie to be taken from the prisoners’ perspective, and it might not be the best, but it’s definitely the baddest–the titular Escape, based on a true story, is not one accomplished without the Jews getting their fingernails dirty. A camp-wide effort, even after they slaughter the guards necessary to even attempt an escape, they have to scale fences of barbed wire, run through mine fields constantly exploding around them, and dodge the bullets shooting rapid-fire at them from the remaining guards’ towers. Approx. 300 of ’em make it, and another 300 don’t. It’s righteous badassery, sure, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.
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6 Responses to “Take Five: Best Jewish Movie Badasses”

  1. […] Take Five: Best Jewish Movie Badasses August 30th, 2007 by Andrew Unterberger The Jews have shifted their shapes! … go all-out on Giovanni Ribisi for stealing his girl and job status. Sam Ace Rothstein in Casino. Marking … a Time in America were nice Jewish boys), Casino doesnt give too much outward indication source: Take Five: Best Jewish Movie Badasses, Intensities in Ten Suburbs […]

  2. Victor said

    Obviously you haven’t accidentally caught the last half of “A Woman Called Golda” starring Ingrid Bergman (in her final role).

  3. Steve K said

    How could you forget David Greene (Brendan Fraser) from School Ties!!! Btw — when i was in 8th grade my parents made me stay inside on a nice summer night to watch Escape from Sobibor — was way better than anticipated

  4. Andrew Unterberger said

    still yet to see School Ties, incredibly enough

  5. Dean Berry said

    BE MEN ENOUGH TO LEAVE THIS POST UP. You missed somebody in applauding “jewish” heroes. Here’s a judeo-communist who relished his role as one of the counterfeit israel’s first terrorists: “OUR RACE IS THE MASTER RACE. WE ARE DIVINE GODS ON THIS PLANET. WE ARE AS DIFFERENT FROM THE INFERIOR RACES AS THEY ARE FROM INSECTS. IN FACT, COMPARED TO OUR RACE, OTHER RACES ARE BEASTS AND ANIMALS, CATTLE AT BEST. OTHER RACES ARE CONSIDERED AS HUMAN EXCREMENT. OUR DESTINY IS TO RULE OVER THE INFERIOR RACES. OUR EARTHLY KINGDOM WILL BE RULED BY OUR LEADER WITH A ROD OF IRON. THE MASSES WILL LICK OUR FEET, AND SERVE US AS OUR SLAVES.” –Menachem Begin (Israeli Prime Minister, 1977-1983). I’ll check back. Of course.

  6. What’s wrong with this picture? If “jews” are portrayed as “victims”, isn’t that the fault of “jewish” studios? Or more like the agenda of the “jewish” studios. DEAN BERRY MINISTRIES

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