|The progression from the old Hollywood of the 1920s to the new Hollywood of the 1970s ushered in the change from films being driven by good guys conquering over the bad into the bad guys becoming the heroes.
In this setting, the gangster genre took hold. Below, in no order, are my top five films about gangsters.
Martin Scorcese’s film, based on author Nicholas Pileggi’s biography of former Lucchese crime family member Henry Hill, is the quintessential gangster film.
Hill (Ray Liotta) is seduced into the mafia at a very young age and its rules and conventions guided how he lived (and still does) the rest of his life.
This film is one of the true champions of the voice over, with Hill’s commentary laid on top of razor-sharp dialogue and scenes of incredible violence. While the film holds the mafia in high regard, at the end we see Hill’s life fall flat after he testifies against his former bosses and friends, showing that crime doesn’t pay.
"Godfather 2" (1974)
The best sequel ever made shows us the origin of the Corleone family’s power along with how it chooses to use it. After taking over the crime syndicate after his father’s death, Michael (Al Pacino) makes plays to insure its future.
What makes this film better than the first “Godfather” film is that it plays the birth of Don Corleone against the possible death of the Corleone family. Robert De Niro plays a young Marlon Brando masterfully and Pacino truly shines after being a bit green in the original film.
Truly an amazing achievement.
"Pulp Fiction" (1994)
Quentin Tarantino’s piece de resistance shows a finicky nature to the life of a gangster.
The duo of Jules and Vincent, played respectively by Samuel Jackson and John Travolta, make a sharp yet hilarious contrast to the convention of the gangster as a person committed to a life of crime, marked only by the drive to please ones boss. After their long day of retrieving the mysterious suitcase desired by their employer, Marcellus Wallace, Jules eschews his dark life in favor of walking the earth while Vincent simply ends up dead.
The film plays with our sense of time, humor and the understanding of how gangsters live their lives and their profession shapes their worlds.
Director Guy Ritchie can make one hell of a gangster film and to date out of his seven total films, four have been about the seedy underbelly of England’s society.
In “Snatch,” a boxing promoter (Jason Statham) is forced to work with evil gangster Brick Top in an effort to fix an illegal boxing match. Meanwhile, thief Franky “Four Fingers” has stolen a gigantic diamond and loses it in an attempt to fence it to a connection in America.
Ritchie writes sparkling, hilarious dialogue and is a masterful storyteller. What I love about his films is that they always involve a large amount of people who don’t know each other yet who end up working towards the same goal.
Plus, it’s always interesting to see the dark side of “proper” English society.
"In Bruges" (2008)
In this film two gangsters, Harry and Ray, are sent to Belgium by their boss after a botched hit.
While there, Harry (Brendan Gleeson) simply wants to lay low and see the sights of beautiful Bruges while Ray (Colin Ferrell) wants nothing more but get the hell out of the town. What happens while they are there is a hilarious and dark look into the mind of the gangster.
Ray finds love while Harry finds the plans for a new job, which is to kill Ray on his boss’ behalf. The story is wickedly funny, even though it includes some of life’s darkest truths.
In addition, Bruges is an amazingly old city hired to play out much more modern conventions