Monday, 14 September 2015

The Top 5 Gangster Films

A gangster film’s power lies in making despicable criminals the protagonist and making you, the viewer, side with them – no matter what deplorable acts they carry out. Looking at TV’s Breaking Bad, you all love Walter White, despite the fact he’s a horrible bloke. And you all hate Skyler, his wife, for being against him. Therein lies the power of crime films and television. With the new Krays thriller Legend in cinemas, what better time than now to look at 5 of the best gangster films? 


A predictable choice, yes. But there is no denying the power of The Godfather. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and released to unanimous critical acclaim, it is still regarded as one of the finest and most influential films ever made. Al Pacino plays Michael Corleone, the youngest son to Vito Corleone (an exceptional Marlon Brando), feared mob boss; the titular ‘godfather’. After returning from service in World War II, Michael finds himself pulled into criminal activity and slowly evolves into a ruthless mobster. A true cinematic classic that oozes perfection in every second of its 175 minute runtime, it was followed by the equally exceptional Part II and concluded with the mediocre Part III. But sequels aside, 43 years since The Godfather’s release, it still holds up as one of the best pieces of cinema in history.


Another predictable choice alongside The Godfather, but one that is equally deserving of a spot on this list. While The Godfather focuses on the old school mafia families of the 1940s and is a work of fiction, Goodfellas tells the true story of the rise and fall of Henry Hill, covering his story from the mid-1950s all the way to 1980. Legendary director Martin Scorsese directs an incredible cast including Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Paul Sorvino and frequent collaborator Robert De Niro. Just like The Godfather, Goodfellas is widely considered one of the best films of all time, let alone just in the crime genre. Stylish, brilliantly acted and sporting a killer soundtrack, Goodfellas is a damn fine film. The shot of Robert De Niro smoking at the bar while Cream’s Sunshine Of Your Love plays will live forever in cinema history.


Like Goodfellas, Donnie Brasco is based on a true story. During the 1970s, an undercover FBI agent named Joseph D. Pistone infiltrated the Bonanno crime family under the alias Donnie Brasco. Portrayed spectacularly by Johnny Depp, he earns the respect of an aging hit-man, ‘Lefty’ Ruggiero (Al Pacino) and the two become close. As Donnie moves deeper into the Mafia, he realizes that not only is he crossing the line between federal agent and criminal, but also leading his new friend to almost certain death. Despite being Oscar-nominated and critically acclaimed upon release in 1997, Donnie Brasco has since faded somewhat into obscurity and exists as a very underrated modern classic. Also starring Reservoir Dog Michael Madsen and Bruno Kirby, Donnie Brasco is a superb gangster film.


While some might debate whether this is a gangster film as such, the definition of the word (a gangster is a member of a gang of violent criminals ) would suggest it is. In any case, after he gave us Lock, Stock & 2 Smoking Barrels in 1998, Guy Ritchie directed Snatch - the finest film that Britain has given to the crime genre. Featuring an ensemble cast including Jason Statham, Vinnie Jones, Alan Ford and a never better ‘pikey’ Brad Pitt, Snatch’s large cast is due to the two intertwined stories – the search for a stolen diamond, and the underground boxing scene - that make up the film’s fast paced narrative. Another incredibly stylish film with a great soundtrack and cast, Snatch has rightly earned a cult following and solid reputation as one of the best British films of all time.


And finally, we have another somewhat underrated modern gangster film – Road to Perdition, directed by Sam Mendes. Tom Hanks stars as Michael Sullivan Sr., who along with his young son seeks vengeance on another mobster who murdered the rest of their family. Whilst films like The Godfather and Goodfellas focus on the crime with everything else as background, Road to Perdition puts the crime and gangster themes in the back seat. This is a family drama about a father and son and a story about the consequences of violence, as well as a gangster film. This is what makes it so special, and why it deserves a spot on this list. It’s also visually beautiful, earning a posthumous Academy Award for Conrad L. Hall’s cinematography. Ironically, Hall also did the cinematography for Cool Hand Luke and Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid – and Road to Perdition also serves as one of Paul Newman’s final films.

Sam Love

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