In honor of the FBI’s extremely belated capture of notorious Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger, who’d been a fugitive for 16 years (12 of them on the Ten Most Wanted list), this week’s Roundtable topic seemed like a gimme. We’re of course going to list off our favorite mob or gangster movies. What are yours?
Before we get to this, there’s just one catch. When I sent out the instructions to the staff, I had to take ‘The Godfather‘ (any of them) and ‘Goodfellas‘ off the table. I’m sorry, but those are just too easy. We’re going to stipulate that those movies automatically fall on everyone’s list of favorites. With those exclusions, let’s see what everyone came up with.
I never really cared much for the gangster genre until ‘The Departed‘. Martin Scorsese had definitely made plenty of Best Picture-worthy films prior to it, but ‘The Departed’ was truly deserving of finally awarding him the Oscar. There isn’t a single flaw with it! It’s constantly pitch-perfect.
Most gangster films are usually set in a different time period or, if set in present day, follow thugs in street gangs. Set in our time and inspired by true organized crime boss Whitey Bulger, ‘The Departed’ is easier to connect with because it isn’t a soft focus story of the past. The huge cast brings a whole lot of life into it. Considering that the cast is chock full of well-known actors, you’d figure that they’d try to constantly outshine one another, but the opposite happens. Each actor gives the performance of a lifetime. Full of unpredictable twists and turns, unless already you’ve seen the original Chinese film that it’s based on (‘Infernal Affairs’), you’ll have absolutely no idea where ‘The Departed’ is going. It’s literally and figuratively mind-blowing. The editing is fresh, creative, fast-paced and totally insane. Without a doubt, ‘The Departed’ is the best gangster film made in my lifetime.
M. Enois Duarte
One of the very best gangster films ever made, and a long-time personal favorite of mine, is without a doubt Brian De Palma’s ‘Scarface‘. Largely panned by critics and engulfed in a tidal wave of controversy, the movie was a moderate success at the box-office by today’s standards (budgeted at $25 million, which comes to $54 million nowadays, it grossed approximately $45 million, which would be around $97 million today). But with time, the Al Pacino crime drama grew in popularity and eventually became a cultural phenomenon – practically revered as the icon of true thug life. Based on the 1932 Howard Hawks movie and updated by Oliver Stone, ‘Scarface’ is a no-holds-barred, brutally violent film that explores the dark side of the American dream. Powerful, compelling, shocking, spellbinding, whatever generic accolade one can think of, this movie has it all and easily ranks as one of the top ten must-watch cult films of all time. Can you tell that I really love this movie?
I love learning about the history of Las Vegas. I’ve got books and books on the subject. Why? I don’t really know. All I know is that it’s a city that’s had a very tumultuous past, mostly because the Mob was so involved when Las Vegas was getting established. Nowadays, most of the casinos down there are run by ultra-rich billionaires, but back in the day, Las Vegas was the Mafia’s turf. No movie exemplifies the stranglehold the Mafia had on Vegas more than Martin Scorsese’s ‘Casino‘. Coming off the success of ‘Goodfellas’, Scorsese put together another great gangster film starring ‘Goodfellas’ alums Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci.
What I love most about ‘Casino’ is that it’s as much a history lesson about how Las Vegas came to be (as we know it today) as it is a gangster movie. We follow Sam (De Niro) around during the movie as he works at the Mafia-controlled Tanigers casino. We see the height of Mafia power in Vegas, and then its eventual crumbling. The movie ends with the old Las Vegas being demolished to make way for a more family-friendly version. Scorsese captures the transformation of Sin City perfectly. It’s a great film.
Personally, I prefer my gangsters with British accents. Before he was Bond, Daniel Craig played the charming unnamed drug dealer (let’s call him Mr. X) in Matthew Vaughn’s stylish crime thriller ‘Layer Cake‘. Mr. X just wants to retire in peace but, as is often the case with gangsters, every time he tries to get out, they pull him back in.
‘Layer Cake’ moves at a brisk pace, taking a few detours along the way to keep things interesting. The film is sprinkled with touches of dry black humor and some intense violence. In fact, it’s the only gangster movie I’m aware of where tea is used as a weapon in brutal beating. The supporting cast is chock full of classic British character actors including ‘Star Trek’ vet Colm Meaney, ‘Bronson’ star Tom Hardy, and ‘Harry Potter’ alums George Harris and Michael Gambon (in a role that’s about as far from Dumbledore as you can get). Even Owen Harper from ‘Torchwood’ makes an appearance.
The film gets bonus points for the soundtrack, particularly its interesting use of the Duran Duran classic “Ordinary World.” And, if you’re in need of a good drinking game, IMDb trivia notes that the film uses the F-word and its deriviatives 201 times. For some reason, it just sounds classier with the accent.
It’s been too long since I’ve watched this one, but just checking out the trailer again had me rolling. Though few would consider it a typical gangster movie, ‘Broadway Danny Rose‘ is the best “Family” comedy that I can think of. The film also features one of Woody Allen’s best performances.
Mob movies always talk about loyalty and standing by “The Family.” Well, theatrical manager Broadway Danny Rose has to be the most loyal guy in the business. Despite representing acts like a blind xylophonist, a one-legged tap dancer, a stuttering ventriloquist and a one-armed juggler, Danny has absolute loyalty to his clients. Hell, he even has the cast of misfits over to his home for the holidays because he knows they, like him, have nowhere else to go. They are his family.
Blindly faithful guy that he is, Danny also knows when he can’t afford to lose an act with potential. So when his single promising client, a lounge singer named Lou Canova, asks Danny to help him bring his mistress, Tina Vitale (Mia Farrow) to his concerts, Danny agrees. Unfortunately, when Tina’s jealous mobster husband mistakes Danny for his wife’s lover, two gangsters are quickly sent after the hapless talent manager to teach him a lesson of the leg-breaking variety. This movie is chockablock with quotable dialogue, hilarious scenes, and memorable characters. With the perfect balance of humor and heart, it’s a gangster movie that I think you’ll find surprisingly touching.
I have to go with the Coen brothers’ early masterpiece ‘Miller’s Crossing‘, which I would still hold as their best film to date. Not only does the movie have a fabulous cast (including the likes of Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney and John Turturro), stylish direction, countless homages to classic gangster films, and just the right measure of patented Coens’ humor, it’s also their most perfectly written and plotted film. There’s not a single scene, action, or line of dialogue that isn’t absolutely essential. And that devastating climax… It’s a thing of beauty. “Look into your heart! Look into your heart!”
I also want to throw out some honorable mentions: ‘A Better Tomorrow’, ‘Bugsy’, ‘Carlito’s Way’, ‘City of God’, ‘Dick Tracy’, ‘Eastern Promises’, the ‘Infernal Affairs’ trilogy, ‘The Krays’, ‘Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels’, and ‘The Untouchables’.
Tell us your favorite gangster movies in the Comments.