Ask any book editor and they’ll tell you one of the most common mistakes novice writers make is to not write dialogue as it’s really spoken. When we converse in the real world it’s punctuated by corrections, interruptions and the liberal use of words like ‘um and ‘ah’. And we almost never say ‘as you know’ in order to deliver a raft of exposition to our unseen audience.
But ask a scriptwriter (or actor) and they’ll tell you a monologue is a character’s time to shine, to take the floor, clear the throat and deliver a showstopper. They can be long or short, funny, threatening or inane, but the character – and the actor playing him (curiously or sadly, there have been few great monologues attributed to female characters) will decisively own the scene.
Hooper X (Dwight Ewell)
Chasing Amy, 1997
Only his friends know he’s a lilting, effeminate gay man, but the author of militant black comic book White Hatin’ Coon will liven up any dull session at a convention. Before drawing a gun full of blanks to express black rage, Hooper gives us the pitch behind his title, complaining about the lack of black role models in science fiction and fantasy.
In on the scam of his fake spree of righteous anger, his friends (and Bluntman and Chronic) creators Holden (Ben Affleck) and Banky (Jason Lee) interrupt to bait him about Lando Calrissian’s role in overthrowing the Empire.
After laughing because there’s ‘always some white boy got to invoke the Holy Trilogy’, Hooper launches into the funniest, most skewed interpretation of Star Wars mythology ever, with Vader a spiritual brother down with The Force and all that good shit and Luke Skywalker a Nazi poster boy who gets a whole clan of white folks together to bust up Vader’s hood.
Will Hunting (Matt Damon)
Good Will Hunting, 1997
The young, emotionally damaged Will Hunting has talents and abilities in mathematics beyond what most people around him have ever seen. He could easily be the next Einstein and Hawking put together, but all he wants to do is get on in the world.
When word of his talents starts to leak out of the blue collar neighbourhood where he grows up with childhood friend Chuckie (Ben Affleck), the government inevitably comes calling, trying to recruit Hunting as a code beaker.
‘Why shouldn’t I work for the NSA?’ Will tells the guy, delivering a sixty second long, unbroken spiel about the failings of US foreign policy and the damage it wreaks in the world because of institutions like the NSA. He takes in everything from the importing of cheap labour and the artificial buoying of oil prices by constant war to the class disparity and the quality of elected officials.
Councillor Ron Motley (Bruce McGill)
The Insider, 1999
Filmed in the real Mississippi courthouse where Jeffrey Wigand (Russel Crowe) gives his deposition against his former tobacco empire employers, state prosecutor Ron Motley has recruited Wigand into joining his class action lawsuit against Big Tobacco.
When the snide defence lawyer tries to frighten Wigand from saying anything, reminding him of the reach the company still has over his life if he fights them, Motley stand up and gives him what for. Approaching the man to challenge his assertion of the company’s rights, Motley starts out jovial, but suddenly explodes, saying ‘wipe that smirk off your face!’ He proceeds to tell the quaking lawyer that ‘I’m gonna take my witness’ testimony whether the hell you like it or not!’
Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson)
Mad Max, 1979
The very image of a modern avenging angel tracking down the bikie thugs who killed his wife and child across the post-apocalyptic Australian outback, Max thinks his task is over with the death of the fearsome Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne). As luck would have it, he comes across his last quarry by chance, the snivelling Johnny Boy (Tim Burns), the scumbag who was released from police captivity and went on to kill Max’s friend and co-worker Goose (Steve Bisley).
Predating the agonising choices of the Saw series by a quarter century, Max handcuffs Johnny to a wrecked car with petrol leaking ominously nearby. He calmly explains how Johnny would likely take far longer to saw through the high tensile steel of the cuffs than the flesh and bone of his own ankle in order to escape, becoming – as Johnny accuses – ‘a very bad man’.
Frank Slade (Al Pacino)
Scent of a Woman, 1992
The rest of the movie is pretty lightweight, but when Pacino ruffles his feathers everyone stops to listen. After dragging mild mannered Charlie (Chris O’Donnell) all over Manhattan one weekend despite his young minder’s protests, it seems the abrasive blind former marine is incapable of being nice to anyone.
But he can also see Charlie has a good heart, and when he’s dragged in front of the school to confess to a transgression that wasn’t his and suffer likely expulsion, Frank steps in uninvited.
As cranky as he is creaky, Slade cuts into the proceedings with a five-minute rant about the moral corruption of the process and the exemplary integrity of his young friend, winning the crowd completely over. He’s also not above using his soapbox for the odd childish barb (‘…and Harry, Jimmy, Trent, wherever you are out there, fuck you too!’)
Colonel Nathan R Jessup (Jack Nicholson)
A Few Good Men (1992)
In hindsight, we know all along the grizzled Colonel Jessup is guilty for issuing the order of a ‘code red’ that resulted in the death of a young marine. And when he shouts ‘You can’t handle the truth!’ – the movie’s pivotal line – at young Navy lawyer Daniel Kaffe (Tom Cruise), we don’t like Kaffee’s chances of pinning the crime on him.
But Jessup, through Nicholson’s demonic, heavily lidded eyes and mouth pinched in anger, launches into acerbic condemnation of the system he protects and which now sees him accused. After a lifetime living in danger to protect the lives of Americans, eating breakfast 300 yards from 4000 Cubans who are trained to kill him, Kaffee needn’t flash a badge and think it’ll make Jessup nervous. Little does Jessup know his iron-willed nerve shows Kaffee the single chink in his armour.
Clifford Worley (Dennis Hopper)
True Romance, 1993
By the time Vincenzo Coccotti (Christopher Walken) and his goons have busted into Clifford’s trailer where he works as a dock security guard, tied him up, beaten him, cut him with a knife and asked him where his son Clarence (Christian Slater) is with their coke, the old man knows he’s dead.
But he’s not going to give Clarence and his pretty new wife Alabama (Patricia Arquette) up, no matter what they’ve done and to whom. So the blue collar, politically incorrect Cliff decides to have a little fun with Coccotti before he dies, a middle finger of defiance up at the world. “Here’s a fact I don’t know whether you know or not,” he says coolly. “Sicilians were spawned by niggers.”
Not quite believing what he’s hearing, Coccotti (clearly Italian) asks for more, and Clifford spins an entire racist tale that may or may not be true, about blacks invading and interbreeding with the formerly white skinned Sicilians, resulting in the dark hair and eyes and resulting in Coccotti’s lineage (‘You? You’re part eggplant’).
Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith)
Clarence is showing a potential partner and former rival Sal (Lee DeBroux) around his coke factory, seeing if the guy wants to buy in. Sal has his own crew of armed goons with him and, casually sipping red wine, isn’t going to be told what to do by an upstart like Boddicker. In the office upstairs, he shows a continued lack of fear and respect, throwing piles of cash at the smiling Boddicker and his henchmen and warning Boddicker that a lot of his associates want Sal to take over.
For a second Boddicker seems unsure what to say, but with OCP CEO Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) backing him, he knows who really runs Detroit. He takes a menacing snort of Sal’s wine and delivers a vicious corporate plan; “I don’t want to fuck with you, Sal. But I got the connections, I got the sales organisation. I got the muscle to shove enough of this factory so far up your stupid wop ass that you’ll shit snow for a year.”
Blake (Alex Baldwin)
Glengarry Glenn Ross, 1992
If the movies are to believed, real estate is as cutthroat as waging war. And with some of best actors of several generations drowning each other in a sea of enraged testosterone, it’s quite an achievement to be the angriest, most profane and nastiest among them.
But corporate fixer and outsider Blake takes the title by a strong of verbal TKOs. Interrupted only a few times during his signature speech by the reeling salesmen of his small audience, he delivers a torrent of vitriol about their means (‘that watch costs more than your car’), their sensitivities (‘you think this is abuse, you cocksucker?’) and their skills (‘these are the Glengarry leads… ‘to give them to you is just throwing them away’).
He’s only in a single scene, but among a tank full of sharks, Baldwin is the whale. “What’s my name? Fuck you. That’s my name.”
Jules Winnfield (Samuel L Jackson)
Pulp Fiction, 1994
Tarantino he didn’t write it, the prophet Ezekiel did. But never has a Biblical verse been delivered with quite as much charisma and menace, and not for nothing is it among the most remembered of movie monologues.
After tracking down the young hoods who’ve made off with the contraband contents of their mobster boss Marcellus’ (Ving Rhames) briefcase, Jules is the mouth of the operation, partner Vincent (John Travolta) the collector. Chewing through his own on-the-spot script, Jules is having a blast being faux-friendly with the kids, discussing the merits of a good burger and getting Brad’s (Frank Whalley) impression of Marcellus Wallace’s likeness to a bitch.
But things have to turn serious sooner or later and Jules swings the mood by reading the Biblical passage he has committed to memory. Brad and his friends die under the great vengeance and furious anger, but as even Jules himself admits to Ringo/Pumpkin (Tim Roth) later on, it was just some cold blooded shit to say to a motherfucker before he popped a cap in his ass.