Dennis Farina died yesterday. He acted in four of the most enjoyable movies of all time: Midnight Run, Snatch, Get Shorty, and Out of Sight.
Farina excelled at embodying gleeful nastiness, exuberant sadism, and petty vanity. He could make a certain brand of bumbling nastiness humorous, and almost appealing.
Farina was a good enough actor that he made you believe that he was probably pretty mean himself. Before he went to Hollywood, he was a detective with the Chicago Police Department, until he was 41. (It seems a fairly safe bet which role Farina got had he and his partner ever engaged in the good cop-bad cop routine.)
But he couldn't have been truly nasty himself, otherwise he wouldn't have gotten so many roles. (It's vital for an actor to be popular with his coworkers; any actor who develops a reputation for being difficult will soon find himself out of work.)
Farina wasn't a great actor; he didn't have enough range to be considered that. His roles varied from street smart and skeptical to brutish and comically vain, but he always played some variant of tough.
But he also wasn't a vain actor. He didn't mind playing ugly, or stupid, or evil, or the hapless comic foil to someone like John Travolta. In fact, he seemed to relish playing those roles, which is what made him enjoyable to watch.
Check out these clips:
Here's Farina as the intimidating, bullying mob boss Jimmy Serrano in Midnight Run.
Here he is as Ray Barboni, the brutal, no nonsense, vain mobster in Get Shorty.
And here he is as Abraham Denovitz, the crooked diamond dealer in Snatch.
It wasn't coincidence that Farina ended up in such enjoyable films; he was a big part of what made them enjoyable.