May 2024



Legend (2015)

Legend (2015)DIRECTOR: Brian Helgeland

CAST: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston, Chazz Palminteri, Taron Egerton, Paul Anderson, Paul Bettany, Kevin McNally, Sam Spruell


My opinion of Legend is much the same as that of another true crime docudrama, Black Massa few months earlier; a tour de force lead performance(s) and some memorable individual scenes doing too little to enliven an otherwise dull and generic gangster flick.  If you’re a big enough fan of the gangster movie genre, or of Tom Hardy, Legend may be worth a look, but “legendary” it is not.  Those hoping for a gangster epic conveying the true story of 1960s London’s notorious Kray twins will be left wanting.  For writer/director Brian Helgeland, who made a name for himself with 1997’s LA Confidential (and also wrote and directed 1999’s deliciously hard-boiled crime caper Payback), this is a disappointingly uninspired and generic effort that like Black Mass comes across as “Scorsese-lite”.  LA Confidential won Helgeland an Oscar, but while a case could easily be made for a nomination for Tom Hardy, the rest of Legend is far from Oscar material.   Continue reading

Gangster Squad (2013)

Image result for Gangster Squad

DIRECTOR: Ruben Fleischer

CAST: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Sean Penn, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Michael Pena, Nick Nolte


Gangster Squad is an unabashedly pulpy gangster flick that feels practically like a comic book come to life, but while it serves up the tropes that fans of the gangster genre come to see—lots of pretty period cars and clothes, hard-ass lawmen versus cartoonishly evil gangsters, a pretty moll, lots of Tommy guns blazing, and a few shoot-em-ups—it all feels superficial. It doesn’t help that, in its basic plot, Gangster Squad comes across like a lesser knock-off of The Untouchables, which is not a flattering comparison for the movie to invite upon itself. Gangster Squad might be an entertaining enough diversion, but it’s a mediocre and forgettable lightweight.

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Lawless (2012)

DIRECTOR: John Hillcoat

CAST: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce, Mia Wasikowska, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Dane DeHaan


Based on Matt Bondurant’s 2008 historical novel The Wettest County in the World, a semi-fictionalized account of the Prohibition-era bootlegging activities of his grandfather Jack Bondurant and his grand-uncles Forrest and Howard, Lawless doesn’t reach the level of the bootlegging film classics it aspires toward, but it’s still an entertaining and engaging, if unspectacular, outlaw adventure that’s soaked in enough blood and moonshine to appeal to fans of the genre.  Its release in late August, generally regarded as a dumping ground for films the studios are not confident enough about to release at the height of summer, is a bit of a shame.  Lawless is a well-made movie that deserves a higher profile than it received. Continue reading

Public Enemies (2009)

DIRECTOR: Michael Mann

CAST: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Billy Crudup, Stephen Graham, Stephen Lang, Jason Clarke, Stephen Dorff, Giovanni Ribisi, Lili Taylor, David Wenham, Leelee Sobieski, Branka Katic, Channing Tatum


Public Enemies is not the first film to portray legendary bank robber John Dillinger, but it’s the most high-profile and the most accomplished, but certain elements keep it from gangster genre classic status, not least of which is that director Michael Mann (The Last of the Mohicans, Heat) elects to film the events in docudrama style instead of aiming for grandeur and glamor.  It could be argued that Public Enemies is an independent art film masquerading as a gangster epic, and how audiences react to that will determine how absorbed they become by the film’s content.  Continue reading

Road to Perdition (2002)

DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes

CAST: Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Tyler Hoechlin, Daniel Craig, Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Dylan Baker, Ciaran Hinds, Liam Aiken


An adaptation of a graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and illustrated by Richard Piers Rayner, and produced by such illustrious names as Dean Zanuck, Richard D. Zanuck, and Steven Spielberg, Road to Perdition marked Sam Mendes’ eagerly-anticipated next project following his Oscar-winning American Beauty.  It’s a venture into the gangster genre, but what it’s really about at its core is the relationships between fathers and sons.  The result is visually splendorous and technically accomplished but a little emotionally remote, and viewers wanting a more action-packed gangster yarn may be bored by the deliberate, unhurried pace.  Nonetheless, for fans of the gangster genre, Road to Perdition is a sumptuous and handsomely-crafted entry. Continue reading

Carlito’s Way (1993)

DIRECTOR: Brian De Palma

CAST: Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller, John Leguizamo, Luis Guzman, James Rebhorn, Viggo Mortensen, Adrian Pasdar, Rick Aviles, John Ortiz


Carlito’s Way, an adaptation of the same-named novel and its sequel After Hours (combining material from both) is director Brian De Palma returning to the gangster trough he previously explored with Scarface and The Untouchables (reuniting with Al Pacino from the former). To that end, Carlito’s Way lacks the depth and epic scope of The Godfather, but is less cartoonish than Scarface, and provides a colorful and engaging two and a half hours for fans of the genre.

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A Bronx Tale (1993)

DIRECTOR: Robert De Niro

CAST: Robert De Niro, Chazz Palminteri, Lillo Brancato, Francis Capra, Kathryn Narducci, Taral Hicks


For his directorial debut, Robert De Niro tells a coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of a Bronx neighborhood under the Mafia’s influence (the screenplay was written by Chazz Palminteri, who adapted it from his own one-man play partially based on his own childhood).  A Bronx Tale could be considered a “mob movie”, but that’s more the backdrop than the focus, and the movie avoids melodramatic stereotypes. Continue reading

The Godfather Part III (1990)

DIRECTOR: Francis Ford Coppola

CAST: Al Pacino, Andy Garcia, Talia Shire, Diane Keaton, Sofia Coppola, Eli Wallach, Joe Mantegna, Bridget Fonda, George Hamilton


The Godfather Part III is an example of the difficulties inherent in releasing a sequel to an acclaimed film series after so much time has elapsed. The 1972 original and its 1974 follow-up are rightfully regarded as one of the greatest one-two punches in cinematic history, with Part III considered a bit of a tired-out afterthought; indicative of the general lack of enthusiasm, it was the first Godfather movie not to win Best Picture, and the first for which Al Pacino did not receive an Oscar nomination. The Godfather Part III is not as bad of a movie as it’s often derided as; in fact, it’s a good one, with some tremendous moments, but it’s not a great one, and for the Godfather franchise, that’s just not quite good enough.

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The Untouchables (1987)

DIRECTOR: Brian De Palma

CAST: Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Robert De Niro, Andy Garcia, Charles Martin Smith, Patricia Clarkson, Billy Drago


Brian De Palma’s magnum opus The Untouchables (loosely inspired by the television series, which in turn was loosely based on historical fact) freely takes sizable liberties with the true story it loosely tells and is an unabashedly Hollywoodized saga of the 1930s clash between Treasury officers led by Eliot Ness and Prohibition-era Chicago crime lord Al Capone, but this is a case of the filmmakers not letting the facts get in the way of a good story.  The Untouchables doesn’t pretend to be a docudrama, instead a rousing adventure that serves up a plucky band of underdog good guys versus the seemingly all-powerful big bad.  It’s easy to get swept up in that kind of David vs. Goliath story, and The Untouchables succeeds on virtually every level, serving up colorful hissable villains, juicy dialogue, a fast-moving pace, some memorable action sequences, moments of humor and tragedy, and a crowd-pleasing triumph of good over evil. Continue reading