Modern filmmakers and screenwriters often look to classic cinematic characters for inspiration. Sometimes you can watch two different films from two different areas and find characters from each that strongly resemble each other. After viewing Elia Kazan's 1951 masterpiece A Streetcar Named Desire, based on Tennessee Williams' 1947 play, I thought that the Stanley Kowalski (the outstanding Marlon Brando) character seemed similar to a character in a film I had recently seen.
Willie Gutierrez (brilliantly played by Joaquin Phoenix), a character in James Gray's 2000 film, The Yards, bears a striking resemblance to Stanley Kowalski. Both Stanley and Willie come from "the wrong side of the tracks" and are looked down upon by the people around them, despite the fact that they believe that they are important, respected people. Willie believes that his boss, New York train company owner, Frank Olchin (played by James Caan), trusts him completely and would never turn on him. Frank actually just uses Willie as muscle and a hit man. Stanley believes that he will always have his friends and his wife, Stella (Kim Hunter), but in the end loses them.
Both Willie and Stanley are multilayered. At times, they both show a sensitive side. Stanley has many loving moments with Stella, such as just after he hits her. Willie shares many tender moments with his fiancée, Erica Stoltz (Charlize Theron), especially when he asks her to marry him. However, both men react violently to betrayal. Willie hits Erica after finding out that she is actually in love with his best friend, Leo Handler (Mark Wahlberg), who is also her cousin. He also murders a yardsman when he turns against him. When Stanley feels as though Stella is banding together with Blanche (Vivien Leigh), he hits Stella.
Both men finally get what they deserve but in different ways. Stella and the baby leave Stanley in the final scene of A Streetcar Named Desire. Willie is arrested after killing Erica and the yardsman. Stanley and Willie have something else in common: they are played by similar actors. Though from two very different generations, Phoenix and Brando are very similar. Both are eccentric, extremely talented, respected by other actors, and incredibly handsome.
The facts that these two resemble each other so greatly and bring such presence and talent to their respective films make A Streetcar Named Desire and The Yards great movies.