Good Gangster Movies

Friday, November 20, 2009 at 7:00 am

Good gangster movies have a rich history in the cinema.  From modern works by Guy Ritchie to early films starring Edward G. Robinson and  James Cagney, this subgenre of the crime film immediately promises bloodshed, tough talk, and plenty of sexy dames.  If you’re new to the genre or just looking for some suggestions, I proudly offer up these good gangster movies.

Eastern Promises (2007) – Director David Cronenberg once again teams up with Viggo Mortensen to create a fascinating look at the criminal underworld.  But unlike A History of Violence, this film deals with the Russian mob and the unwitting midwife (Naomi Watts) who stumbles into their world of murder, prostitution, and betrayal.  Armin Mueller-Stahl and Vincent Cassel are wonderful as a ruthless father/son duo.  And as a bonus, we get a brutal fight in a steam bath featuring a nude Viggo Mortensen.

Pusher (1996) – This Danish crime film took Europe by storm and launched the career of director Nicolas Winding Refn.  Frank is a heroin dealer who gets in debt to a Serbian drug lord after the cops ruin a transaction.  To save his own skin, he must collect a lot of money in a hurry, but he’ll also have to deal with an increasingly annoyed enforcer and nagging prostitute girlfriend along the way.  Two sequels have been made, each dealing with one of the original film’s supporting characters.  Widely considered to be the first Danish-language gangster film.

Goodfellas (1990) – Martin Scorsese directed this film based on the life of American mobster Henry Hill.  This was the first role I ever saw Ray Liotta in, and his screen presence was immediately recognizable.  The same goes for Joe Pesci and his part as psychotic Tommy DeSimone.  Scorsese vets Robert De Niro and Frank Vincent also appear, and look for Samuel L. Jackson in an early role.  Filled with great music, unflinching violence, and almost 300 uses of the “f-word,” Goodfellas is a manic ride through the mind of a career criminal.

The Krays (1990) – The kings of crime in London’s East End during the ‘50s and ‘60s, twins Reggie and Ronnie Kray are brought to the big screen and portrayed by real-life twins Martin and Gary Kemp (most famous for being part of Spandau Ballet).  From humble beginnings to rotting away in prison, their lives are covered in entertaining detail.  My favorite part comes when someone asks “You know the Beatles?”  Reggie says “no,” and then Ronny adds, “I believe they know us.”

New Jack City (1991) – Mario Van Peebles makes his mark as a director in this gangster film which would give comics like Dave Chappelle material for years to come.  From drug lord Nino Brown (Wesley Snipes) handing out Thanksgiving turkeys to Chris Rock’s turn as a crack addict, this film is exaggerated fun from start to finish.  Add in a heroic duo which consists of Ice-T and Judd Nelson, and you’ve got a film which definitely falls into the “good gangster movies” category.

Bugsy (1991) – A murderer and rapist in real life, gangster Bugsy Siegel has his dirty past glossed over in this Warren Beatty vehicle.  Instead, he’s painted as a dreamer and a romantic, as evidenced by his whirlwind relationship with starlet Annette Bening.  While trying to make his dream of casinos in the desert a reality, Bugsy must also deal with financial backers which include mobsters Mickey Cohen (Harvey Keitel) and Meyer Lansky (Ben Kingsley).  Beatty, Keitel, and Kingsley each received Oscar nominations for their respective roles.

Get Carter (1971) – If you only think of Michael Caine as kindly old Alfred the Butler, then you need to see this British film from the early ‘70s.  In it, Caine plays Jack Carter, a mob enforcer who returns home after his brother supposedly dies in a drunk driving accident.  Since his brother was never much of a drinker, Carter immediately becomes suspicious and sets out to learn the truth.  This leads to a trail of dead bodies as Carter seeks payback, and the film’s ending is a bleak reminder of the wages of sin.  Caine is wonderfully merciless as Carter, especially in a scene where he forces a prostitute to take a lethal overdose of heroin.

The Public Enemy (1931) – Tom Powers (James Cagney) grows up in prohibition-era America and slowly rises through the ranks of the criminal underworld.  Played out as a cautionary tale about the dangers of crime, perhaps the most memorable scene is the one in which Powers angrily smashes a grapefruit into the face of his unsuspecting girlfriend.  This was Cagney’s first major hit, and he would be viewed as a tough guy for the rest of his career, which is ironic considering he was only 5’6”.

The Godfather (1972) – While it’s certainly a masterful gangster movie, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather is also widely regarded as the greatest film ever made.  While Coppola can certainly take some of the credit, you can’t overlook the stellar cast which included Marlon Brando, James Caan, Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall, and many more.  The film follows the exploits of the Corleone crime family and son Michael’s (Pacino) rise to prominence.  If you want to see the source of inspiration for many modern crime films and rap albums, then slip this one into your DVD player.

Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) – Guy Ritchie, Jason Statham, and Vinnie Jones all became international stars following the success of this movie.  Named the 38th greatest British picture by Total Film magazine, it tells the story of a talented card player who gets in debt to a sinister mobster following a rigged card game.  With only days to settle his debt, he and his friends decide to rob the violent criminal who lives next door.  Of course, things hardly go as planned, especially when Rory Breaker (Vas Blackwood), a soccer-loving madman, is added to the mix.  An entertaining soundtrack and a colorful cast of characters make Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels a gangster film worth seeing.

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Now that you’re up-to-date on some of the good gangster movies available, why not educate yourself on the following topics:

This entry was posted on Friday, November 20th, 2009 at 7:00 am and is filed under Good Movies, Thoughts on Film. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “Good Gangster Movies”

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November 28, 2009

Blu-ray DVDs

Good List of movies. Thanks

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