No one's gonna tell you anything. They're wise to your act. You got rules. The Joker, he's got no rules. No one's gonna cross him for you.
give me a thousand deaths worse than you. Go find him your-fucking-self. (Jumps out window)
Everyone has watched enough crime dramas to know that on of the easiest ways to bring down a Big Bad
gangster is to catch one of his mooks doing something illegal and threaten the mook with a ton of jail time for it. After spending some time thinking about what it would be like to spend 20 years or so in jail, the mook breaks down and tells the cops what they want to know. The cops arrest the mook's boss, the mook testifies, and everything ends happily ever after.
Sometimes though, things don't go so smoothly. Sometimes the boss is such
a Complete Monster
and so fearsome
that the prospect of the boss looking to get revenge on the mook (or their family
) means the mook will gladly take anything the law can throw at them rather than that. Bonus points if the Big Bad
is either a Torture Technician
or keeps one around just for this purpose.
Naturally, this can also apply to the general public, although in this case it may be a more general fear and unwillingness to get involved that is the motivation. Tends to be particularly common in poor countries where the criminals may have more control than the government
. Things aren't helped either if the police are known for being corrupt
or all three.
This is often the result of the Big Bad
using Outscare the Enemy
and I Control My Minions Through...
(Fear). It's particularly likely to happen if the villain is The Dreaded
or the crime organization in question happens to be Ruthless Foreign Gangsters
Anime & Manga
- Sal Maroni spells this out for Batman in The Dark Knight. Everyone, from the ordinary citizens to hardened criminals are more afraid of The Joker than of Batman. No one is going to give Batman information on the Joker, knowing what sort of reprisals would result.
- Taken to the extreme in Steven Seagal vehicle Marked for Death, where one mook is so sure that his boss can't be taken down and so scared of him that he jumps out a window when cornered by Seagal rather than act as The Stool Pigeon.
- It's brought up even earlier in the movie, when the Big Bad asks his mooks "Who do you fear more, him or me?" Their wordless reaction makes the answer perfectly clear.
- A Bronx Tale has the Innocent Bystander version. When the protagonist Calogero witnesses the neighborhood Mafia boss kill a man right in front of him at age 8, he doesn't tell the police anything both because of the street ethic of his neighborhood and out of fear. Later at confession he refuses to even tell the priest any details. When the priest encourages him not to be afraid because no one is more powerful than God, Calogero responds by saying "Your guy may be bigger than my guy up there, but my guy is bigger than your guy down here." The priest reluctantly concedes the point and gives up asking.
- The first Once Upon a Time in China movie also used the Innocent Bystander version. When Wong Fei-Hung beats the crap out of a powerful gangster and some of his men, all the people around applaud and cheer for him. Fei-Hung then says that he's going to turn the gangster in and asks for someone to testify in court. Everyone in the crowd that had gathered around promptly leaves.
- Notably averted a few times in Payback. Several people tell main character Porter (an Anti-Hero who verges on being a Villain Protagonist) that the Outfit will kill them if they talk to Porter. Porter's response is always the same; "What do you think I'm going to do to you? Worry about me."
- This is a recurring problem for the cops on The Wire and with good reason, as many characters who decide to become witnesses end up dead. This is particularly important in season 1, where they have to have Omar give an obviously false testimony in order to convict Barksdale enforcer Bird because no one else is willing to testify and risk being killed for it.
- The Mentalist: one Victim of the Week is the son of a mob boss who is dying of cancer. The boss is on record as planning to kill the person responsible. Cho goes to investigate a possible suspect, who the son had had his goons beat up over a bar dispute. The suspect loudly says that the victim was a great man and he had no problems with him. Then he tells Cho quietly to come back after the old man dies & he might have a different story to tell.
- Police Procedural shows like Law & Order and NYPD Blue utilize this trope a lot when dealing with organized crime. Russian mobsters are portrayed as being especially intimidating, with a willingness to wipe out employees, witnesses, and families of same.
- One episode of Psych was only resolved in a crowd scene where the bystanders were shamed/encouraged to come forward and start testifying about the behaviors of the gang in their midst. It was a Christmas Special.
- An overheard audio diary in the first BioShock game has a smuggler caught and tortured by the Rapture police say, "...Whatever Ryan thinks he can do to me, Fontaine can do double!". Considering you find said diary on his bound, electrified corpse, that's pretty damn impressive.