Robbery, racketeering, drug dealing and even murder… the life of a mobster, with all the backstabbing and violence you could ever ask for, is a far cry from what the vast majority of what many of us would consider normal. However, larger than life mob characters have always been a perfect fit for the movies, their horrifying but exceptional life stories captivating audiences from low- budget indie gems right up to the biggest blockbusters. The latest film to tackle the terrible but thrilling life of a ruthless career criminal is Gotti, a hard-hitting true crime tale of one of America’s most notorious mafia figures.
In the 1970s and 1980s, John Joseph Gotti (played by John Travolta) ascended through the ranks of New York’s Italian mob with a lethal and effective blend of loyalty and ruthlessness. Gotti possessed a keen mind for strategic planning and was able to manipulate the pieces of the underworld’s puzzle to his benefit. The proté gé e of underboss Aniello Dellacroce (Stacey Keach), Gotti managed to transform an already successful operation run by the Gambino crime family into one of the most powerful criminal organisations in NY history. The ‘Teflon Don’, as he would come to be known, would secure his place as the head of this family through a bloody coup carried out in the streets of Manhattan in the 1980s.
Arching back and forth between the crucial events that shaped his illicit career during the 1970s, and the aftermath in the 90s when illness ravaged his health, the film presents a man whose path was marked by violence, ambition, and, despite it all, love for his family. Gotti co-stars Kelly Preston as Gotti’s devout wife Victoria and is directed by Entourage star Kevin Connelly.
On 24th September you can meet the boss for yourself when Gotti comes to Blu-ray and DVD. To celebrate we’ve picked seven of our favourite movies about real-life mobsters. Got other plans?
Forget about it wise guy!
Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967)
Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty starred as the titular Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in Arthur Penn’s Oscar-nominated tale of two criminal sweethearts terrorising Depression Era America. During the early 1930s, their gang had achieved national infamy, committing a dozen bank robberies and murdering at least nine police officers. Penn’s film confronted the grit and violence of the Barrow gang head-on in his late 60s flick, breaking many cinematic taboos and becoming something of a counterculture talisman.
The film’s ending, which lasts just 54 seconds, has become known as ‘one of the bloodiest scenes in film history’ and has influenced countless films from Brian De Palma’s Scarface to Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects. Bonnie and Clyde still has power even today.
The Untouchables (Brian De Palma, 1987)
As well as telling the fictional tale of Tony Montana’s rise to the top of the Miami cocaine trade in Scarface, Brian De Palma also famously tackled a real-life mob tale at the peak of his career. The Untouchables sees Kevin Costner, as federal prohibition agent Eliot Ness, faceoff against Al Capone, played by none other than Robert De Niro.
The film is based on Ness’ autobiography, which cemented his name as the incorruptible cop who led a group of agents called The Untouchables on a mission to bring down Capone. During production Albert H. Wolff, who served in the real Untouchables crew, helped Costner with his portrayal of Ness. De Niro likewise got into character, wearing costumes made by Al Capone’s tailor and acting out many real-life events including the infamous baseball bat scene. Ouch! The Untouchables was a big hit at the time and still holds up today as one of the most entertaining movies in the genre.
Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
Martin Scorsese is a name that’s synonymous with mobster movies, and one of the very best is Goodfellas. It stars Robert De Niro (who else?), Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta, as real-life mafia associate Henry Hill. The film charts Hill’s criminal career working with the Lucchese crime family between 1955 and 1980, after which he turned rat for the FBI and went into witness protection. Scorsese is known for often working with the same actors but had never directed Ray Liotta in a movie before. As Liotta was in the lead role, Scorsese wasn’t keen on the idea of him having contact with the real Henry Hill, thinking this might distract his star from the script. During the film’s 2 hours and 26
minute runtime, the F-word is used 324 times (around half of which are spoken by Pesci), making it one of the most profanity-ridden films of the time. It’s also a masterpiece from front to back. So, if you’ve never seen Goodfellas, then stop breaking our balls and see it now.
Blow (Ted Demme, 2001)
Blow tells the story of gringo cocaine smuggler George Jung, who worked with Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel to bring large quantities of ‘blow’ into the country. It is estimated that over 85% of the cocaine that came into America in the 1980s was as a result of the Medellin Cartel, helped in no small part by Jung, who in 1994, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Johnny Depp stars as Jung (aka ‘El Americano’) who is the focus of the film, while Cliff Curtis took on the role of the notorious Escobar. To prepare for the role, Depp interviewed the real Jung in prison, where he was serving time for drug trafficking. With the narrative centred around the cocaine trade, naturally a lot of white powder disappears up noses, but the ‘blow’ that was snorted by the actors in the film was actually just milk powder. Blow is popular with film fans and has only gained status over recent years.
American Gangster (Ridley Scott, 2007)
In 1968, Harlem crime kingpin Ellsworth ‘Bumpy’ Johnson died leaving a gap in the market. Those boots were filled by Frank Lucas, portrayed by Denzel Washington in Ridley Scott’s epic biopic American Gangster. Scott’s film tells the story of Lucas’s takeover of the Harlem drug trade and his ‘innovation’ to buy pure heroin direct from Thailand and ship it back on US military planes during the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, Detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), one of the few uncorrupted cops working in New York at the time, is hot on Lucas’ tail. The real Lucas liked the film but also commented that much of it was made up for dramatic effect. To get into character, Crowe studied audio recordings of Roberts in order to mimic his tone of voice. But the real Roberts later said he felt the film was inaccurate. Still, American Gangster received critical acclaim and is now regarded as one of the better modern gangster pictures.
Black Mass (Scott Cooper, 2015)
Johnny Depp made a return as a real-life mobster in Scott Cooper’s Black Mass, which shed light on the violent criminal exploits of Whitey Bulger. In the 1970s, Bulger headed up the infamous ‘Winter Hill Gang’, a syndicate of mobsters that have controlled organised crime in South Boston from the 1950s to the present day. During his criminal reign, Bulger is thought to have committed at least 19 murders, as well as arms-trafficking and extortion offences, to name a few. Depp tried on a few occasions to speak to the real Bulger, to prepare for the role but was unable to. However, realism was achieved in another, rather more morbid way – the film was shot on location in Boston, with many of the murder scenes being filmed in the places where the real-life murders happened.
Legend (Brian Helgeland, 2015)
Reggie and Ronnie Kray were identical twins who, during the 1960s, oversaw an organised crime empire in the East End of London, chalking up a variety of offences including murder, arson, racketeering, extortion and armed robbery. Brian Helgeland’s acclaimed biopic charts the gruesome rise and fall of the ruthless pair, with Tom Hardy taking on a dual role, playing both Reggie and Ronnie. During his 35-days on set, Hardy would play both parts back-to-back, filming a scene as one brother then having his make-up, hair and clothes changed to re-do the scene as the second brother. While preparing to play two of the UK’s most notorious criminals, Hardy had a number of meetings with their former hit-man Freddie Foreman, known in his heyday as ‘Brown Bread Fred’ or ‘The Undertaker’. Who had his own documentary film released recently called Fred.
Lionsgate Home Entertainment UK presents Gotti on Digital 17th September and Blu-ray & DVD 24th September, 2018