Subject: America's anxious times made it a banner year for villains and bad guys in movies and TV
One arm shot off and hat brim slanted low, Frank Griffin, an outlaw
predisposed to frontier wisdom and Bible brandishing, rides with 30
hard men in a fury that can empty a town by sunset.
Played by Jeff Daniels in the new Netflix series "Godless," Griffin
is an alluring villain, a man shaped by a boyhood tragedy he carries
with him like a sin turned sacred. He is reflective and cruel,
intelligent and brutal, a man of intricate and unfathomable parts
who can kill the innocent one day and the next soothe strangers
blistered with smallpox. He knows more intimately than a coyote the
unforgiving land he roams.
"This here's the paradise of the locust, the lizard, the snake," he
says. "It's the land of the blade and the rifle. It's godless
The Scripture-quoting Griffin is one of many standout villains in
what has been a banner year for bad guys in movies and TV. In an era
when men from Hollywood to Congress are being called to task for
generations of discrimination, sexual harassment and holding power,
our latest round of miscreants tend to be white, some born of
privilege, others not. They mark a notable evolution from films of
the past that featured tomahawk-wielding "Indians," shape-shifting
Soviet spies, bandolier-laden Islamic terrorists and sharp-clawed
aliens from distant galaxies.
Among the most resonant this year are Sam Rockwell's racist,
homophobic cop in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri";
Michael Shannon's menacing researcher in the foreboding and
fantastical "The Shape of Water"; Alexander Skarsgard's impeccably
tailored, vicious husband in "Big Little Lies"; the council of men
who imprison and impregnate women in "The Handmaid's Tale"; the
ape-hating Colonel in "War for the Planet of the Apes"; and the
liberals and racists in the satire turned horror film "Get Out."
Each has compelled audiences to reflect on the sins of these
characters while also exploring what motivates them. How are notions