Dennis Farina’s 10 Most Memorable Movie Roles

Mark Deming
Movie Talk
Dennis Farina
Dennis Farina

Dennis Farina
started out as a cop, and used what he learned on the job as the basis for a memorable career as one of the screen's most colorful tough guys. Born and raised in Chicago, Farina spent eighteen years on the city's police force, but in 1981, when he was assigned to serve as a technical consultant on Michael Mann's inventive thriller "Thief," Mann saw potential in the charismatic cop, and cast him as one of the movie's heavies.

Farina soon found himself in demand for movie and TV roles, even though he never took an acting lesson, and when Mann cast him in the lead of his short-lived series "Crime Story," Farina took up acting full-time. With time, Farina became one of Hollywood's most reliable and recognizable character actors, never a star but as valuable as many actors who got paid a lot more. Farina died Monday at the age of 69; in tribute, let’s look back at ten of his most memorable screen appearances.

"Get Shorty" gave Farina the chance to play one of his definitive short-tempered wise guy roles as Ray "Bones" Barboni, a gangster from Florida who is not much impressed with the glitz of Hollywood. "I want us to be friends, Faye. And we all know that friends don't hit each other … unless they have to."

SNATCH (2000)
Guy Ritchie's fast-paced follow-up to "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels" featured Farina alongside a top-notch tough-guy cast as Cousin Avi, an American mobster doing business in England. Predictably, he doesn't care for it: "London. You know: fish, chips, cup 'o tea, bad food, worse weather, Mary F—ing Poppins … London!"

Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin made an unexpectedly excellent comic team in this top-shelf mixture of action and laughs, and Farina helped set the story in motion as Jimmy Serrano, another short-fused crime boss who is out to get Grodin's Jonathan Mardukas after he foolishly deprives Serrano of $15 million.

Five years before "The Silence Of The Lambs," director Michael Mann brought Hannibal Lecktor (as he's spelled here) to the screen in "Manhunter," and Farina delivered a memorable turn as Jack Crawford — the role later played by Scott Glenn, Harvey Keitel and Laurence Fishburne — an FBI agent anchoring the investigation of a vicious serial killer named "The Tooth Fairy," with criminal profiler Will Graham (William Petersen) turning to Lecktor (Brain Cox) for help.

THIEF (1981)
Dennis Farina made his big-screen debut in this stylish thriller from Michael Mann. Set in Chicago, "Thief" features one of James Caan's finest performances in the title role, and Mann set out to give the movie plenty of Windy City atmosphere, with Farina delivering flawless authenticity as a thick-skinned bad guy.

Farina rarely had better on-screen company than he did in this witty crime thriller from director Steven Soderbergh that also stars George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Ving Rhames, Catherine Keener, and Albert Brooks. In "Out Of Sight" (another adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel) Farina plays ex-cop Marshall Sisco, who gives his daughter Karen (Jennifer Lopez) the sort of gift any loving father would give his little girl – a new gun.

Farina showed he was a tough guy with heart in Steven Spielberg's acclaimed wartime drama, where he fit seamlessly as Lt. Col. Anderson, the man who gives Capt. Miller (Tom Hanks) the news that he has a special assignment: finding Private Ryan and bringing him home.

Family-friendly comedy wasn't Dennis Farina's usual stock in trade, but he showed he could deliver the good in this baseball-themed charmer. In "Little Big League," Farina played George O'Farrell, the ill-tempered manager of the Minnesota Twins, who finds himself out of a job when a 12-year-old boy inherits the team and tries to break their losing streak.

Farina didn't get many leading roles, and played even fewer romantic characters, but he got to do a bit of both in this romantic-comedy – albeit with a sharp twist. "That Old Feeling" co-starred Farina with Better Midler as a long-divorced couple who can't stand each other, until they cross paths at their daughter's wedding and find the old spark burns anew.

Farina gave one of his last and strongest performances in this Chicago-shot indie drama as Joe, a small-time thief and short-money hustler who learns a little too late that the big payoff he dreamed of is never going to come. Farnina rarely got to play tough and heartfelt as well as he did here, and the movie is a love letter to the dirty, run-down glory of Farina's hometown.