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The Tattoo Movie Review

Posted by on December 4, 2010

If you’re like me and most people I know, the first question you ask when you hear about a new movie is, “Will there be any good tats in it?”  While classics like “Red Dragon” and “Reign of Fire” don’t come along every day, it is still possible to find good tattoos in movies on a regular basis.  Join me as I take you along a whirlwind tour of the good, the bad, and the ugly of cinematic tattoos. 


“Simon Sez.”  This much-overlooked 1999 action movie featured one of the greatest tattoo actors of all time: Dennis Rodman.  Sporting the real tats that he displayed as a member of the Chicago Bulls, Rodman does some action-movie type stuff in this movie, but the iconic sunburst on his left shoulder was an indelible image.  You also owe it yourself to check out Rodman’s 1997 masterpiece, “Double Team,” with co-stars Jean-Claude van Damme and Mickey Rourke.  That’s a murderers’ row of tattoos!


“Wanted.”  A true diamond in the rough.  While Angelina Jolie’s tats are not as extensive as, say, Wesley Snipes’s in “Blade,” what they lack in surface area they make up in intricacy and meaning.  Jolie’s esoteric tats symbolize something or other—I forgot to pay attention because I was too busy staring at them.  On the topic of tattoos with secret meanings, I was reminded Viggo Mortensen’s symbolic Russian prison tats in “Eastern Promises” and the little girl Enola’s tattoo of a schematic map to Dryland on her back that served as a MacGuffin in “Waterworld.”


“Remains of the Day.”  This movie was a total disappointment.  Not only do Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson not display any tattoos on their faces or hands, not even teardrops at the corners of their eyes or the words “Love” and “Hate” on their knuckles, but they never even take their clothes off, so we never get to see what, if any, ink they have on underneath.  One would think Christopher Reeve could at least strip down to a wife-beater, allowing us a glance at the barbed wire twisted around his biceps.  And even if he’s not going to take his shirt off, would it really be too much to ask for Anthony Hopkins as the repressed butler Mr. Stevens to rock a tribal Maori moko?


“The Number 23” makes a good effort, but ultimately the stylized thorns and hearts on Jim Carrey’s arms and shoulders just don’t pass muster, because it’s Jim Carrey, y’know?  The designs weren’t intricate enough to warrant a second look, and their use of traditional imagery felt tired.  For a more imaginative use of relatively plain designs, see George Clooney in “From Dusk Till Dawn.”


“The Godfather.”  A complete tease.  If it’s about Italian criminals, shouldn’t tattoos be guaranteed?  But no, there are none.  Speaking of Robert de Niro movies, avoid “Heat”—not as many tattoos as you’d expect, given that it stars Val Kilmer, a great tattoo actor.  For some real ink action, see his tats in “The Salton Sea,” an obscure (but not to us) neo-noir crime flick.


Of course, I’ve left out many movies such as “Memento” and “xXx” and “Once Were Warriors” with which the true tattoo movie aficionado will already be familiar.  And recently in the multiplexes was a scene taking place in a tattoo parlor at the end of “The Expendables,” a movie about, apparently, some tattooed mercenaries.  Join me next week for an in-depth discussion of the 1981 opus “Tattoo,” in which an obsessed tattoo artist played by Bruce Dern kidnaps and holds captive a woman in order to create his masterpiece on her skin, and why some people believe that might be construed as going too far.

One Response to The Tattoo Movie Review

  1. CWJohnson

    Although it’s a place, not a movie, don’t forget that mother of all SF tattoos tropes…


    According to one account I just made up, during the filming of Episode 4, Harrison Ford got Alec Guinness drunk, and convinced Guinness to get some ink that reads, “THIS IS NOT THE TATTOO YOU ARE LOOKING FOR. MOVE ALONG.”

    Boy, was he angry about it the next day.

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