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FORSGREN: In the movies, Christmas is a time of crime and redemption

The Art of Nerding Out

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When I was a little kid, Santa Claus would spoil me completely. I’m talking candy canes, assorted nuts, oranges, chocolate-covered goodies … the works. And by about five on Christmas afternoon, all those goodies were long gone. But my sisters and brother still had their stuff.

So I undertook a criminal operation to liberate my siblings loot. Unfortunately, Mom or Dad usually caught me and administered my comeuppance. I would beg for mercy, for some path to redemption. Too bad my childhood wasn’t a Hollywood movie, because if it were, redemption surely would have been attained.

You don’t have to watch too many movies coming out of Hollywood to see that crime and Christmas are inextricably linked in the eyes of Tinseltown filmmakers. And yet, so many of these flicks lead to a character redeeming himself by the end. After all, there’s no time like the most hopeful time of the year for scumbag characters to change for the better.

I’m not sure how far back this goes. At least to Charles Dickens and “A Christmas Carol”. You know that one. Crotchety greed-meister Ebenezer Scrooge completely remakes himself into a Christmas-loving fool after three spirits show him the error of his ways and its possible future repercussions. Since then, the “heroes” of Christmas crime movies have become more and more reprehensible.

For example, take Willie, the protagonist of “Bad Santa”. When we meet him, he’s a raging alcoholic safecracker with a foul mouth. And those are his good qualities!. But meeting and forging a friendship with young Thurman Merman somehow melts the ice around Willie’s cold, black heart.

By the end of the movie, he decides that this weird little kid is the best friend he has, and that’s worthy of a Christmas gift. He turns on his criminal partners (who were planning on betraying him, anyway) and races back to Thurman’s place with gift that’s as much a symbol of his change in heart as a piece of material merchandise. It’s not like Willie become the jolliest Christmas elf ever, but in the end, just that little change of heart is enough to win him a measure of redemption.

Another criminal who finds Christmastime redemption is Gus, the main character in “The Ref”. After finding himself left high and dry in the middle of a jewel heist, Gus goes from the frying pan into the fire when he hijacks Lloyd and Carol, a bickering married couple headed straight for a divorce. Not only does he have to deal with the stress of running from the law, he also has to put up with the aggravation of listening to Lloyd and Carol’s incessant arguing.

However, Gus eventually railroads Lloyd into standing up for himself. After he puts Carol and his mother in their places, Lloyd wins Carol’s respect and the two of them decide to stay together. Gus, although a crook, plays an instrumental role in reconciling Lloyd and Carol, and through that, he find a little redemption of his own.

Of course, a character needs not be a criminal to find redemption in a Hollywood Christmas crime flick. For example, “Die Hard” protagonist John McClane is a good cop who’s bad at every other aspect of his life. His estranged wife and kids live on the other side of the country. On a trip to see his family, McClane ends up in a life-and-death firefight with a group of elite super-criminals.

McClane finds redemption through protecting the lives of his wife and her coworkers, and BOY, does he do it the hard way. From dangling inside elevator shafts and squeezing through air conditioning ducts to exchanging bone-crunching blows (and bullets) with the bad guys and literally leaping off the exploding roof of a high-rise building, McClane saves dozens of people, and while that doesn’t make up for the role he played in the dissolution of his own family, all those other folks get to go home to their loved ones because of him.

Christmas is a magical time of year, when almost everything seems possible. Christmas crime movies tell us over and over that inside every bad guy, there’s a heart of gold that just needs to be touched (or annoyed by bickering yuppies or locked in a tall building with a bunch of upscale thieves or… whatever) to bring about a Christmas miracle. So, if you find yourself being annoyed by relatives you can’t stand this Christmas, don’t fume about it. Send up a wish for the magic of the season to redeem them. You may be surprised what happens.

I mean, I’d be surprised if it worked, too ..