On the Waterfront (1954)
Marlon Brando's rare combination of simpleminded bullishness and thoughtful sensitivity was put to best possible use in this landmark film about union violence and abuse in a community of longshoremen in New Jersey. Brando reunited with actors' director Elia Kazan who went on location and let his players grind out their conflicts in icy cold conditions – to harrowing effect: On the Waterfront felt more starkly realistic and unforgiving than most contemporary dramas, and it still does after sixty years, despite the fact that the thematics today are (or should be) more or less irrelevant in Western societies. There's an ominousness of noirish quality seeping through this film, but it never feels in any way stylized, as is often the case in noirs or even thrillers. This is all credit to Kazan and his ability to put human conflict, both interpersonal and internal, to the forefront. The film's famous culmination, when Brando's Terry disarms his brother Charley, both explicitly and metaphorically, is among the best single scenes in film history.