Sympathetic Criminal is not usable in its current form. The Example as a Thesis description obscures the true definition of the trope, and the name is misleading people to an Audience Reaction. The definition is "A character performs criminal actions but is given sympathetic and understandable motives for doing so.". That definition is 100% the same as Justified Criminal, which is "when a person becomes a criminal because of socio-economic reasons, or just plain horrible circumstance", or more simply, "doing bad things for good reasons". Comments are in bold:
Oh no! These guys just held up a bank, and they have hostages! They're threatening to kill everyone if they do not get their demands! They'll even kill the old lady! They don't care! They're monsters!
Not exactly. You see, these guys don't really plan to hurt any of the hostages. That's just a front they put up to scare the police. In fact, they don't really seem like they're that bad at all. The hostages seem to be getting along with them, even joking around. Soon it's revealed that they aren't just being greedy. They have good intentions. They're a Justified Criminal: they need the money to pay for their daughter's operation. Either that, or the person they are robbing kind of deserves it anyway. Misuse of Asshole Victim: that's for murder victims, plus the trope definition is blatantly stating that the two tropes are identical.
This trope is often used in Bank Robbery and Hostage Situation movies. Expect the hostages, the crowd outside and even the media to sympathize with the robber. Sometimes the negotiator or the detectives will actually grow to like the bank robber or at least respect him as misunderstood. If the good guys do not sympathize, expect them to be painted in a bad light. Expect, used often, sometimes.... these are Weasel Words that disguise the fact that this paragraph adds nothing to the definition of the trope. There's been no explanation on the relationship with Justified Criminal.
These characters are often the protagonists, but not always. Also, they don't have to be bank robbers to invoke the trope. If they're sympathetic but have no clue about how to do the crime, they're a Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain. Well, this paragraph tells me the relationship between this trope and Ineffectual SV, and nothing else.
See also Stockholm Syndrome, Justified Criminal, Karmic Thief, and Loveable Rogue.
Depending on the Writer, and to a large extent whether or not its the mainstream comic, The Joker could have been a violent murderous criminal even before his acid bath. In that light he just acts insane to get away with the Insanity Defence and in truth all that happened to him was he developed a love of committing horrific crimes for attention and thrills, and not just for money or other reasons.
In the Cyanide and Happiness book there's a comic book when a little boy and his dad are being mugged, the little boy screams for help, his father has a heart attack and his son screams for a doctor, Seizureman comes to save the day but has a "Brain attack" And finally the mugger says "I should call a ambulance". At best guess, the idea that a mugger who suddenly has two people dying in front of him is "sympathetic" must be an Audience Reaction.
Bandits, starring Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton.
Mitigated in at least one scene where the bank manager's wife breaks down crying in the middle of dinner on account of, y'know, being held hostage in her own home by bank robbers. It's a realistic touch. However, the audience still seems expected to root for them. Audience Reaction
Clive Owen in Inside Man. Despite the ZCE, actually a pretty nice complicated version. The character is well-spoken, intelligent, and speaks with a foreign accent: good case for Loveable Rogue there. He admits that he does it because he can, that completes the case for Rogue. He lists money as a motivating factor, so possiblyJustified Criminal. But he says he really is trying to reveal Case's secret. So in essense, a Karmic Thief.
In The Italian Job, the audience (especially if they're British) are supposed to feel this way about Charlie Croker and his gang, even though objectively they're not sympathetic at all. Audience Reaction again
Denzel Washington in John Q. holds up a hospital to ensure that his dying son gets the operation he needs. Justified Criminal
Samuel L. Jackson in The Negotiator. When he is falsely accused of his best friend's murder, Jackson holds a government office hostage in order to clear his name and learn the truth. What horrible circumstances have forced this crime! That's right, Justified.
Public Enemies: John Dillinger went to a lot of trouble to cultivate this persona. It helped that he was gregarious and good at working a crowd. In all likelihood, he might have actually been just a poor farm boy who stole to get a better life, and compared to contemporaries Baby-Face Nelson and Clyde Barrow, he was a nicer or at least more careful criminal. Hrmm, possibly audience reaction, suggested justified criminal. Loveable rogue or Affiably Evil are the only serious claims here. Work page mentions he's played by Johnny Depp, and is Affiably evil. JD covers the audience reaction aspect.
Ruthless People: Sam Stone stole a fashion idea from Ken and Sandy Kessler, as well as their life savings. The Kesslers decide to get revenge by kidnapping Sam's wife, Barbara, and forcing him to pay a $500, 000 ransom. The Kesslers are portrayed as being incredibly nice and gentle people (also completely incompetent kidnappers) who end up befriending Barbara and helping her get revenge on Sam (who had intended to kill her). Another fun example, the pair are Justified Criminal because they were swindled, Karmic Thief for getting revenge on a bad guy, and Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain, because they're incompetent kidnappers.
This is a big part of the theme in Swordfish. Subverted in the opening, where John Travolta's Diabolical Mastermind refers to/deconstructs Dog Day Afternoon, commenting that a more successful robbery would rely on carefully applied ultraviolence instead. The antagonist is a quasi-sympathetic Knight Templar who steals money that doesn't really belong to anyone for an ostensibly good cause. He doesn't want to hurt anyone, but if he has to, he doesn't hesitate to employ violence "for the greater good". Firmly on the aspect of Audience Reaction, but an interesting example nonetheless. The main character of the movie gets shanghaied into the situation, and definitely counts as an example of Justified. Travolta's character might fit under Affably Evil or Karmic Thief. I'd need to watch the film again to be sure.
Happened in the French movie Yamakasi. Another ZCE
In Catch Me If You Can, Frank Abagnale starts out his career of conning people and counterfeiting checks after running away from home and trying to support himself. He gets less sympathetic as his crimes and the amount of money he has stolen increase, but he remains likeable as a develish rogue who outsmarts his enemies with sheer brains and bravado, and also scores points for tiring of his life as a criminal. Loveable Rogue, plus Con Man, plus Justified Criminal.
Lisbeth Salander in The Millennium Trilogy steals hundreds of millions of dollars by very clever use of computer hacking and disguise, and gets the reader's sympathy for her cleverness. Anyway, the original owner was a nssty villain who in the first place got the money in very nasty ways and who clearly "deserved it". Moreover, Salander had had a hard life and when becoming a multi-millionaire does not any extravagant use of the stolen money - just enough to enjoy life a bit, in between very harsh and dangerous adventures. Mixture of Guile Hero, Loveable Rogue, and Karmic Thief.
The Carnival of Crime in The Cape. They rob banks to circus music. Written as an Audience Reaction. The team of misfits are better categorized as Lovable Rogues.
A subversion is an episode of Chuck wherein the Buy More is robbed by a bumbling, all around likable guy. who is actually a competent, ruthless agent of the Nebulous Evil Organization in the series and who did the robbery only to draw Chuck and his partners out. Appears to be a subversion of the Audience reaction.
CSI: New York had a season finale with a bank robber whose family was being held up until he robbed the bank subverted later when you discover his family doesn't exist, and he was lying all along. The episode ends on a cliffhanger since he took Mac hostage. The first episode of the following seasons reveals that he does have a family, they just weren't in any danger (since he was the mastermind behind it all). Justifed Criminal getting subverted.
Another episode had the daughter of a bitterly estranged couple, desperate to escape the pain and torment of living in the middle of such a relantionship, rob her parents so she could run away with her boyfriend (who helped her with the robbery). She never intended for her father to die, it was his wife who killed him, and even she comes off as sympathetic as the husband was willing to destroy his company, bankrupting her, their daughter, and his best friend/business partner, just to spite the wife.. Starts as justified, slides into Karmic.
Most of the cast of Firefly. They kill and steal, but it generally only hurts the villainous Alliance.
The second episode even had them trying to give back a bunch of stolen goods when they realized the man who hired them neglected to mention it was needed medical supplies from a colony of working class miners.. Combination here of loveable rogues, karmic thieves, and Jerk with a Heart of Gold. The alliance isn't entirely villainous, just the antagonists. Inara, Book, and before kidnapping his sister, Simon: are all in good standing with the Alliance. The crew has Audience sympathies, and actually manage to piss off more people in the show than they befriend.
Gwen Raiden from Angel. <sigh> another ZCE. Too many characters to find, and no crosswick to trace.
Leverage: In the episode "The Bank Job", a father and son attempt to rob a bank in order to pay off some meth dealers who are holding the mother hostage. Justified Criminal. Luckily, the Leverage team was in the middle of conning a corrupt judge with a deposit box in the bank when this all went down. Um, no clue.
Sam leaped into a masked bank robber, who with his two brothers were trying to steal exactly the amount their pa needed to pay off the mortgage to the same bank.
Sam leaped into a man who, along with his friend, robbed a church in order to pay for treatment for his friend's daughter's treatment for fever (which his friend's wife had died of). The church refused to give them any money from the donations as "They said we would spend it all on rum."
One of the last seasons of Stargate SG-1 had an episode where the team gated into a museum, were quickly considered Terrorists, and had to pretend to be taking hostages and acting the part before they could fix the gate and return to Earth. Confusing circumstances. Close enough for Justified Criminal.
Most of the drug dealers and criminals in The Wire have at least a few sympathetic moments. Omar has a code of honor that prevents him from killing civilians or kids. Stringer Bell wants to escape from the ghetto and become a businessman. Avon Barksdale is shown to greatly care about his family, friends and associates; and goes out of his way to get a talented basketball player into college and donates $15, 000 to start a boxing gym for kids. Michael and Dukie are two homeless teenagers with unreliable drug addicts for family who are trying to survive while taking care of Michael's little brother. There are many other examples. Collectively, Audience Reaction. Individually, examples of several tropes.
Almost every single criminal in Flashpoint has sympathetic motives. In many cases, the members of the SRU that are assigned to talk or take them down end up sympathizing with them. In-Universe example of Audience Reaction.
Walt (at least initially) and Jesse in Breaking Bad. ZCE. Page shows the two should be considered Justified Criminals. The comment "initially" suggests a character development that changes the trope.
Discounting the occasional serial killer, when the murders are finally exposed on Bones, they often tend to have somewhat sympathetic (or at least human) motives for their actions. That's not to say it justifies their actions, but it can lead to some real tear-jerker scenes. A memorable example involved a former soldier and medical student explaining why she killed one of her comrades right in front of a child she had been helping when Booth arrived. Finally, a Sympathetic Murderer example. Note that the trope claims more than murder in the definition, expanding the meaning to any sympathetic criminal.
Another example that leaps to mind is the brilliant scientist who believes his military-contractor employer tried to stop him from going to the Feds about their illegal activity by killing his ex-wife and kidnapping his young son. Booth asks the scientist crew what the guy's next move will be (since the man is a genius like them) and they point out that in terms of character, he's more like Booth (a "protector"). Booth thinks for a moment and then determines the guy will go after the man he holds responsible. They arrive at the boss's office just in time to talk him down as he holds him at gunpoint demanding his son's release. Example Indentation and Natter, the scientist seems to fit Sympathetic Murderer more than Justified Criminal, although the example doesn't show the scientist successfully committing any crimes.
Popped up from time to time on Life. Most notably the episode where three soldiers on leave go after the Corrupt Corporate Executive behind some defective body armor that got their fourth friend killed (turns out he knew the vests were only effective for 3-years of use but lied about them lasting 5 in order to get the army contract). "Go after". Sounds like attempted murder. A bit of overlap between Asshole Victim and sympathetic murderer.
Religion, Mythology, and Legends
Among the legendary stories of the wise Japanese judge Ooka Tadasuke is one where a man out of work sneaks into a rice warehouse and steals just enough rice to feed his family for the week. He intends to replace it when he gets a job. Money for his family. Justified criminal.
Montoya fits this role rather nicely in Dino Attack RPG. He was a small-time criminal just trying to provide for his girlfriend and never really wanted to be involved with crime. Justified criminal A heist gone wrong and the urgent need to get away finally gave him the chance to go clean and start a new life. Later on he is arrested for attempted murder- trying to shoot the former bounty hunter Silencia Venemosa, who he is rightfully angry at for murdering his partners. Sympathetic murderer His subsequent arrest and pardon ultimately lead him to redeem himself in the eyes of a particularly nasty lawman. In-UniverseAudience Reaction of sympathy for the criminal.
Interestingly Silencia Venemosa herself, while incredibly terrifying (complete with comparisons to The Terminator in her efficiency), still has a tragic backstory that actually makes her quite sympathetic- the whole reason she became a bounty hunter in the first place was to track down the crime boss that burned down her home and murdered her parents. Well, begins as Sympathetic Murderer, I'm not sure if this is an Audience Reaction afterwards, or if she keeps rules about Asshole Victim bounties only.
Ace Attorney gives us Terry Fawles. He went along with a phony kidnapping ploy at the behest of his girlfriend, Dahlia Hawthorne. She and her sister Valerie made it so that he got arrested on genuine charges for a fake crime. Why did they do it? Terry wanted to know too. He broke out of prison just to ask. No clear reasoning here. I'm inclined to imagine a Loveable Rogue, but may just be Audience reaction of sympathy for a criminal.
Pekka from Fairy Dust has long worked for the Amicale and still dabbles in illicit activities, but goes farther and farther out of his way to protect his surrogate grandchild from them. Criminal and the audience is sympathetic towards them. Why? Even Evil Has Loved Ones.
Still new. Still learning. Asking questions and making mistakes.
A little early on that crowner. Might be jumping the gun there.
There's no subjectivity in this trope that I'm seeing. Just Rule of Empathy, which is objective. It is, however, a Ridiculously Similar Trope if not a straight duplicate. If there's a distinction between "sympathetic" and "justified", it's of questionable tropability. Merging seems viable.
Anti-Villain characters are here, too. I'm not sure I'd label Sam Beckett (Quantum Leap) an Anti-Hero.
What name would you give "criminals the audience is expected to sympathize with"? Hmmm, might need some time in YKTTW to settle an appropriate description/definition.
edited 4th Dec '13 12:20:47 PM by crazysamaritan
Still new. Still learning. Asking questions and making mistakes.