Ultimate Gangsters Collection Contemporary
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Ultimate Gangsters Collection Contemporary

One of the first genres of movie to truly catch on with the public was the gangster movie. The initial golden age of this genre was the thirties, which coincidentally occurred with several historical factors. First it was the era of the grand palace movie theaters. It was an event to go and watch a film and the buildings were opulent, reminiscent of those that housed the legitimate theater. Next it was in the wake of the Great Depression. Droves of people were out of work as the banks collapsed taking away their homes, jobs and life savings. For many a Constitutional Amendment prohibited alcoholic beverages. Just when people felt they could use the solace of a drink it became illegal. The government had let the citizens down to an unprecedented degree. Then the criminals started to bootleg beer and whiskey. Others robbed the very banks that stole from the people. In an odd but understandable way the gangster became cult heroes. Certainly they murdered and destroyed property but they also provided a vicarious sense of retribution. From the safety of the nicely cushioned theater seats the patrons could experience the excitement of living outside the laws of a government that let them down. Last year Warner Brothers released a set of four of the most notable gangster films of that era. Now, they have returned with volume two, the contemporary films.

In the spirit of full discloser I admit that my personal favorites are the classic films. the new movies as represented here are stellar examples of the resurgence of the gangster movie that began in the eighties with the overwhelming success of such movies as ‘The Godfather’ it’s sequel, ‘Goodfellas’ and ‘Casino’. Not only were they great representatives of the category but they are among the most ground breaking examples of the cinematic arts. The four films here are not in the same league as the ones just cited but each in their own way contributed to the persistent popularity of gangster movies. The fascination with the professional criminal continues leaving plenty of room for subsequent volumes in the future.

Once Upon A Time In America (1984)   

bulletDirector: Sergio Leone
bulletWriters: Harry Grey (novel)
bulletLeonardo Benvenuti
bulletStars: Robert De Niro/ Joe Pesci/ James Woods

Although the criminal organizations most frequently portrayed in this genre were Italian such criminal activity was commonly perpetrated by people of many ethnic origins. This film considers members of Jewish gangsters who grew up in New York City during Prohibition. The film takes place thirty five years later when these lifelong friends reunite. The story unfolds across the span of decades related by taking the audience back and forth in time. This did necessitate dual casting of the primary characters; the well-known star playing the contemporary with younger actors assuming the role in the flash backs to the past. There are three time periods covered here, the twenties, the thirties and 1968. David "Noodles" Aaronson (Scott Tiler) is a young Jewish man trying to survive in the ghetto on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He joins a gang along with his friends, ‘Patsy ‘Goldberg (Brian Bloom), Phillip ‘Cockeye’ Stein (Adrian Curran), working for one of the many gang leaders. In the thirties Noodles (Robert De Niro) is just released from prison quickly reuniting with his friends; Max (James Woods), Patsy (James Hayden) and Cockeye (William Forsythe). They have been busy expanding their criminal enterprises over the years thanks to Prohibition and welcome Noodles in. years later Noodles is informed that the cemetery where his friends are interred has been sold and he has to make other arrangements. The film is of interest on several levels. The stars of the movie have made significant contributions to the genre and their careers portraying the archetypical member of an Italian mob family. Playing their Jewish counterparts provided a showcase for them to demonstrate their considerable range. Although basically playing the same characters we are used to watching the migration in ethnicity afforded them the opportunity to infuse the roles with subtly difference nuances. The motif of following the characters through a long period of years had been well established as part of the tenants of the modern gangster movie.

Black Rain (1989)   

bulletDirector: Ridley Scott
bulletWriters: Craig Bolotin
bulletWarren Lewis
bulletStars: Michael Douglas/ Andy Garcia/ Kate Capshaw

This movie represents a rather significant modification to the traditional format of the gangster flick. Usually, the scope of the story is restricted to a major American city, typically New York City or Chicago. ‘Black Rain’ diverges from this format by taking the audience on a global crime adventure. The story begins in s familiar enough fashion in New York City with a police detective, Nick Conklin (Michael Douglas). He is facing an investigation by internal affairs who suspect him and his partner, Charlie Vincent (Andy García), taking money from criminal sources. Both men are in fiscally precarious straights; Nick is divorced with a pair of children while Vincent is also financially over extended. While in a restaurant the pair happens to observe known mob figures having a cozy meal with some Japanese men. Another Japanese man enters with heavily armed associates seizing a small package and slaughtering the Asian men at the table before fleeing. It turns out that this was an instance of the Japanese mob, the Yakuza, branching out to the States cooperating with our local gangsters. When the Japanese criminals are extradited to Osaka, Nick follows the case to Japan resulting in more suspicions from the brass and IA. By inserting an international twist this takes the genre into a modern, international view of criminal activity.

Internal Affairs (1990)   

bulletDirector: Mike Figgis
bulletWriter: Henry Bean
bulletStars: Richard Gere/ Andy Garcia/ Nancy Travis

The differentiating element in this movie is a change of perspective. Rather than concentrating on the criminals this film examines the police force. In particular the segment of the force that investigates fellow officers of the law than have moved to the dark side and committed crimes themselves. This is a cat and mouse game between police officer Dennis Peck (Richard Gere) and Raymond Avilla (Andy García), in Internal Affairs. Peck is a larger than life figure, slick, able to manipulate circumstances and people around him. The format of the film is structured somewhat episodically over the course of several weeks in December 1989 to January 1990. Red flags are raised by a series of excessive force complaints against Peck. It doesn’t require much digging for Avilla to realize he can build a strong case against his corrupt target. As with many of the neo-gangster movies there is concerted effort to modernize a few of the tropes. Here the female role is moved from either the mobster’s girlfriend od cop’s wife to the lesbian superior, Amy Wallace (Laurie Metcalf), partnered with Avilla.

The Town (2010)   

bulletDirector: Ben Affleck
bulletWriter: Peter Craig
bulletBen Affleck
bulletStars: Ben Affleck/ Rebecca Hall/ Jon Hamm/ Jeremy Renner

Holding to a very popular theme utilized in the gangster movie, lifelong friends from a poor ethnic neighborhood of a large city. In this case it is a predominately Irish area of Boston, Charlestown, and renown for the Irish mobs. The four friends; Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), Jem Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Gloansy Magloan (Slaine) and Dez Elden (Owen Burke), decided to make a fast buck by robbing a bank. During the heist they take the manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall). As it happens she lives in the neighborhood so of course, MacRay becomes infatuated with her and basically stalks her until a romance blossoms which he has to conceal. Later disguised as police officers they rob the box office at Fenway Park making off with $3.5 million in cash. This is a hybrid genre flick attempting to blend the gangster movie with the heist flick with a splash of romance thrown in to broaden the appeal. Of the four films this is arguably the lesser offering in the bunch.

Posted 05/06/2014

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