Like so many of you, we here at The MALESTROM are bonafide lovers of a good gangster tale, and with the official release of the first trailer of biopic ‘Gotti’ featuring John Travolta as the ruthless unrelenting mob boss and head of the notorious Gambino family in New York, we got all excited. And hot off the heels of the very exciting news that Joe Pesci has signed up to play mob boss Russell Bufalino in Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman,’ we decided to take a look at some of the best crime bosses in film history.
“If you can quote the rules, then you can obey them.”
Ok ok, so not a film but what list of crime bosses would be complete without a nod in the direction of James Gandolfini’s turn as Tony Soprano in the landmark HBO series ‘The Soprano’s.’ It follows the complicated life of the New Jersey mobster as he tries to juggle family life with running a criminal organisation. His complicated relationship with his mother leads him to the door of psychiatrist Jennifer Melfi, where Tony lays his soul bare. Gandolfini got the role after the casting director had seen a short clip of him in True Romance, and thank the lord she did. The range of emotions from a beleaguered, put upon family man, who can perfectly display sadness and outright rage marks Gandolfini’s Tony out as one fictions greatest mob bosses.
Don Vito Corleone
“It’s an old habit. I spent my life trying not to be careless – women and children can be careless, but not men.”
The Godfather of all mob bosses, Marlon Brando in the role of kingpin Vito Corleone is the greatest example of the traditional Mafiosa, and the values at the heart of the organisation – family comes first, you conduct yourself with honour, you treat women with respect, and you kill anyone who gets in your way! Brando’s performance is so mesmerising, due in the most part to his unconventional approach, in his screen test he famously put cotton wool balls in his cheeks to create that unmistakeable drawl and shoe polish in his hair to darken it. Of course in pretty much the greatest sequel in cinema history, Al Pacino inherited the empire, and his turn as the modern day Don highlighted him as one of the great crime bosses, but more on Mr Pacino next.
“I always tell the truth. Even when I lie.”
The story of the Cuban immigrant Tony Montana who arrives in the US with nothing, but through sheer will and refusal to accept his standing in life, swiftly rises to the top of the criminal underworld, is an out-and-out gangster classic. The qualities of never taking a backwards step in the face of threats, violence, and bullets (lots of bullets) all set Tony Montana apart as a viable and dangerous opponent to any of his on screen mob boss contemporaries. And that would especially be the case if he happened to introduce them to his ‘little friend.’
“There’s only three things you can do in the joint, kid: lift weights, play cards, or get in trouble.”
‘A Bronx Tale‘ is in so many ways the prefect gangster film, a coming of age story expertly directed by a man who knows a thing or two about the genre, Mr Robert DeNiro. Featuring go-to gangster guy Chazz Palminteri as mob boss Sonny LoSpecchio, the smartly dressed pristine appearance with his manners and old school values belies his violent and ruthless nature. Having befriended local schoolboy Calogero and son of everyman bus driver Lorenzo (Robert De Niro), Sonny begins to mould ‘C’ in his own vision, performing the role of caring responsible role model, it is only when crossed that we see Sonny’s true colours.
Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting
“Mulberry Street… and Worth… Cross and Orange… and Little Water. Each of the Five Points is a finger. When I close my hand it becomes a fist. And, if I wish, I can turn it against you.”
Daniel Day Lewis doesn’t tend to do half measures but in ‘Gangs of New York’ his portrayal of Bill ‘The Butcher,’ the merciless and unhinged kingpin of the dangerous and violent ‘five points’ district in 19th Century lower Manhattan, is so overwhelmingly brutal, he’s one of the most uncompromising bosses Scorsese’s ever filmed and that’s saying something. In Bill, the resentful, darkly humorous, cleaver wielding maniac, we see a man who will stop at nothing to put an end to swathes of immigrants arriving in his land. The levels of method Lewis went to, included continually glaring at DiCaprio off screen, and maintaining Bill’s personality at all times. One of the very best.
“From now on, nothing goes down unless I’m involved. No blackjack no dope deals, no nothing. A nickel bag gets sold in the park, I want in. You guys got fat while everybody starved on the street. Now it’s my turn.”
So often the bridesmaid and never the bride, in 1990 Christopher Walken was given the opportunity to illustrate his considerable talents in the lead role of Frank White in ‘King of New York.‘ To be honest you’d hardly call the film a classic, it was generally panned by the critics at time of release, but if there was ever a prime candidate to play a mob boss it has to be cult film figure Walken. The at times sluggish storyline is lifted by Walken and the impressive supporting cast. Frank White is a mob boss with a difference, with scant regard for human life when it comes to his unsavoury associates, his socialist ideals see him endeavour to give back to the community, in the form of a hospital he plans to build with the proceeds made from taking over his rivals. Frank is an intelligent, complicated, indefinable but undoubtedly dangerous kingpin.
“What you think this is the wheel of fortune? You think you can make your dough and fuck off? Leave the table? Thanks Don, see you Don, off to sunny Spain now Don, fuck off Don. Lying in your pool like a fat blob laughing at me, you think I’m gonna have that? You really think I’m gonna have that, ya ponce.”
Ok so Ben Kingsley’s psychopathic Don Logan isn’t technically the mob boss in this film, that role went to Ian McShane, but in his head Logan is absolutely numero uno and we certainly wouldn’t argue that he wasn’t in charge! The character was based on his grandmother, who Kingsley described as “murderous” and “verbally violent.” Turning up on set two weeks after the cast members had arrived and in full terrifying cockney Don mode, Kingsley traumatised the other actors in the movie from the get-go. Co-star Ray Winstone had to flee out of a window at one point as he found him so difficult to deal with. In the film his rage and vitriol burns through the screen as he perfectly personifies a genuinely disturbed and unsettling human being, and given his alpha male, boss attitude, he’s very aptly named ‘Don’.