Martin Scorsese is known for his complex characters. But despite their flaws, some show noble traits in films like The Departed or Shutter Island.
Martin Scorsese has been called the greatest living director by many people. His stunning filmography has given audiences some of the best movies of all time and countless memorable film characters. While his pictures are often known for their dark stories and violence, he has created more than a few great cinematic heroes.
These characters are often complex and far from perfect, but Scorsese finds a way to highlight their best qualities to make them inspirational people that viewers want to cheer for. Though it’s sometimes hard to find them in Scorsese’s challenging films, these characters are certainly worthy heroes.
Frank Pierce – Bringing Out The Dead (1999)
Scorsese seems drawn to characters on the verge of a breakdown and Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage) in Bringing Out the Dead is certainly one of them. Frank is a paramedic working nights in New York City and suffering from severe insomnia.
Frank is good at his job, but he is haunted by the people he was unable to save. Despite his mental state, he is someone who is determined to save lives. He puts his life on the line for others and approaches the job with more sympathy and levelheadedness than his colleagues.
Eddie – The Color Of Money (1986)
Paul Newman returned to his role as “Fast” Eddie Felson in this sequel to The Hustler. The Color of Money finds Eddie an older man who has stepped away from pool hall hustling but begins mentoring a cocky yet talented player named Vincent.
After a falling out with Vincent, Eddie refines his own skills and enters a tournament. He plays Vincent in one of the rounds and beats him, only to learn Vincent threw the game on purpose. When he reaches the finals, Eddie forfeits, knowing he didn’t get there fairly.
Dr. Cawley – Shutter Island (2010)
The thriller Shutter Island follows a pair of U.S. Marshals investigating the disappearance of an inmate of a psychiatric prison. The man who oversees the treatment of the patients is an intelligent and caring man named Dr. Cawley.
Despite most of his colleagues calling for more aggressive treatments of the violent inmates, Cawley is a man who genuinely wants to cure these people through a personal approach. He goes to great lengths to help one patient in particular avoid a lobotomy.
Danielle Bowden – Cape Fear (1991)
Scorsese tackled this remake of the classic thriller Cape Fear. The film centers around a violent criminal who is released from prison after a lengthy sentence and seeks revenge on his defense attorney who withheld evidence that could have gotten him out of jail.
The criminal targets the lawyer’s family as well, including his young daughter, Danielle. In the face of this man of pure evil, Danielle is rightfully scared but is also more strategic and cunning in fighting him off and saving them all.
Hugo Cabret – Hugo (2011)
A children’s movie directed by Martin Scorsese seems like a strange concept, but he pulled it off with this wonderful period story. The titular protagonist is left orphaned in Paris and hides away in the city’s train station.
One of the only possessions Hugo has in the world is a robotic figure left by his father. As he obsessively tries to fix it, Hugo takes an interest in the lives of the people in the station, especially an old man at a toy shop. Despite having his own troubles, Hugo helps his man rediscover his passion.
Rodrigues – Silence (2016)
Religion has always been a big part of Scorsese’s films and Silence deals with it in a very direct way. The film is set in 17th century Japan and follows two Jesuit priests searching for their missing mentor in the country in which Christianity has been outlawed.
Rodrigues is the most strong-willed of the priests and though his quest to bring Christianity to Japan could be seen as arrogant, he mostly wants to help people. He is put through many hardships, but he is always willing to do what he can to save others.
Billy Costigan – The Departed (2006)
Scorsese is known for his gangster films, but few of them center on heroic characters. Billy Costigan is one of the few good guys in The Departed and someone willing to put his life on the line for the right cause.
He is an undercover cop attempting to bring down a ruthless gangster and his crew. As the situation gets more dangerous, Billy sticks to his mission. And when he finds that there is a cop working for the gangster, he puts himself back into danger in order to expose the man.
Priest Vallon – Gangs Of New York (2002)
Taking a look at the early days of New York, Gangs of New York examined the city’s many gangs and the rampant discrimination against foreigners that poisoned the city. The story focuses on the oppression of the Irish people.
In the first scene of the film, Priest Vallon is seen as the man leading the Irish gangs. He is a man of faith but will do what he must to protect his people and ensure they have a better life. He ultimately sacrifices his own for the cause.
Chuck Aule – Shutter Island (2010)
Teddy Daniels is the main character of Shutter Island and the leading investigator in the case of the missing inmate. He is joined by his new partner Chuck, who proves to be a supportive and heroic partner.
However, it is eventually revealed that there is no missing inmate and Teddy is, in fact, a patient at the facility. Chuck is one of his doctors who put himself at risk for this experimental treatment to have Teddy acknowledge his past crimes and hopefully heal himself.
Jesus – The Last Temptation Of Christ (1988)
The Last Temptation of Christ is one of Scorsese’s most controversial films for its depiction of Jesus’ final days and his desire for a longer life.
However, Scorsese does successfully depict Jesus as a man who was willing to sacrifice everything for what he thought was his true purpose. His fear of death and his thoughts of living as a married man makes the sacrifice feel even more selfless.