The Departed (2006)

When people bring up the works of Scorsese, it is often his 20th century films that are mentioned most. Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), Goodfellas (1990) – these are the films that seem to come to mind. And the protagonists of these films – Travis Bickle, Jake LaMotta and Henry Hill – are synonymous with Scorsese’s depiction of ‘fragile masculinity’ on film, a trend that has continued through to The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), his most recent feature length film as a director. We get this in spades too in The Departed (a film almost devoid of any women), as Scorsese uses two equal but opposite male protagonists to highlight the two sides of the law. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Billy – a cop undercover in the Boston Irish Mob, and Matt Damon plays Colin Sullivan, a rat for the mob working in the Boston state police.

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The Departed (dir. Martin Scorsese, DOP Michael Ballhaus)

Like many of Scorsese’s best works, this film works as a slow burn, building the tension to a violent and satisfying climactic release. Additionally, having two conflicting viewpoints with which to engage with the film adds a layer of tension to The Departed that doesn’t exist in many mob films, or many undercover cop films for that matter. However, also like many of Scorsese’s films, it could be said that The Departed runs for maybe 10 minutes too long, with some of the cathartic release that the audience has earned ultimately dragging the final minutes of the film somewhat. However, that is a fair price to pay for a film that so skilfully executed. Screenwriter William Monahan masterfully navigates the two intertwining worlds and stories, doling out information as the audience needs it, never too early or late. It is no wonder he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay – without each scene it may well be that the film would not be so satisfying on a narrative level, regardless of any minor qualms.

It is also worth mentioning the outstanding cast (on which apparently about half of the budget was spent). Alongside Damon and DiCaprio is Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Vera Farmiga, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, and Ray Winstone, all giving powerhouse performances that anchor the film in its gritty reality. All of these huge names carry a certain intertextual baggage with them when they appear onscreen, but aided by Scorsese at the helm, it’s not hard to stay immersed in the world of the film.

Is The Departed Scorsese’s best film as a director? Perhaps not. However, I’d have to say it is a top three favourite of mine, and it proves he is just as capable of creating an iconic gangster movie in the 21st century as the Scorsese of the 20th.

The Podfather Score: 8.75/10

– J.B

Bob le flambeur (1956)

Bob’s a gambling man. He dresses smart and lives large; he drives a gorgeous 1955 Plymouth Belvedere convertible, and everyone in the Parisian neighborhood of Montmartre knows his name.

Jean-Pierre Melville’s gangster-noir film Bob le flambeur (Bob the High Roller) is still regarded by many as a pioneering precursor to the French New Wave. And it’s held in very high regard by others as an important work in the gangster film genre. But sixty years since its début, it’s hard not to notice the wear and tear of this aging classic.

Bob’s winning streak has ended, and finding himself flat broke, he gathers a crew and plots a complicated scheme to rob the millions of francs sitting in the safe of the Casino Barrière de Deauville.

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Bob le flambeur (dir. Jean-Pierre Melville, DOP Henri Decaë, Maurice Blettery)

It’s almost set up to be a kind of French Ocean’s Eleven (1960/2001) – that is, until the plot basically fizzles out and loses pace. This isn’t the gangster movie that you’re expecting to see. Perhaps it’s lost in translation, be it culturally or by the passage of time, but it feels too slow and loose.

That said, there’s certainly a lot to enjoy about Bob le flambeur. Its French film-noir mood is at times completely mesmerising, and Henri Decaë’s handheld camera work is as beautiful as it is revolutionary.

So despite its lasting critical acclaim, to your non-academic, average Joe who just wants to sit down and enjoy a great mob movie, time hasn’t been so forgiving. Bob le flambeur lacks urgency, and with its awkward, random pace, it’s more than a little rough around the edges.

The Podfather Score: 5.5

-W.D
(Will Duncan)

Outrage (2010)

After a decade-long hiatus from the genre, Kitano “Beat” Takeshi is back in full swing with Yakuza crime drama Outrage. Written and directed by Takeshi, who also stars in the film, Outrage follows the growing conflict between the Sanno-kai and Murase syndicates, and the subsequent civil war between the lower families of the Sanno-kai. A brilliant and brutal portrayal of the changing Yakuza landscape in modern Japan, the movie does not attempt to over-educate the audience on the traditions and culture surrounding the Yakuza. Instead, it presents a political upheaval from the moment it begins to the moment it ends and leaves you to enjoy the escalating violence as it borders on absurdity. However, this deadpan delivery of a story of numerous families and their members can certainly leave one confused, and it was only during my second viewing of the film that I was able to successfully comprehend the true extent and structure of the various families.

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Outrage (dir. Takeshi Kitano, DOP Katsumi Yanagishima)
Well known for his comedy in Japan, Takeshi brilliantly threads black comedy throughout the movie without overplaying it, which can catch you off guard at times, such as finding yourself laughing as two men yell at a third, pressuring him to slice through his own finger with a box cutter. Where the movie shines most though is in its moments of silent storytelling. Takeshi is clearly a master at letting his actors tell the story without the need for dialogue, and these moments are so beautifully shot. But the good comes with the bad, and Outrage’s shortcomings exist in its treatment of its female characters. None of the female characters are named, neither during the movie nor its credits, and at no point does their existence significantly affect the plot. This certainly does not serve the film. The few women in Outrage could have easily provided an alternate insight into the main characters, although this certainly would have complicated things further. But if not, it would have been best to eliminate them altogether.

Outrage is a thrilling, beautifully shot and often humorous portrayal of the brutality and absurdity that exists within the Yakuza. With excellent silent scenes and a great balance of exploited and stylised violence, this is an easy film to enjoy. Just be sure to have a pen and paper on hand to keep track of who’s who, and who’s still standing

The Podfather Score: 6.875/10

– E.G

(Edan Goodall)

Hard Boiled (1992)

If there’s a better marriage of the action and gangster genres then I’m a monkeys uncle! John Woo’s epic send off to Hong Kong cinema is a pleasure to watch as it effortlessly takes the skeleton of a gangster film and fleshes it out with endless, over the top action sequences. However nothing is wasted, nothing is done for the sake of it and nothing feels over done. Even at the most outrageous of times!

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Hard Boiled (dir. John Woo, DOP Wang Wing-heng)

Hard Boiled takes us deep into triad gangs from the point of view of the police. With officers undercover and out in the open working to take down down the vicious organisation. Though it’s seen from the outside in, the movie does well to feel as much a gangster film as a cop flick and redefines what it means to be a cool gangster and a cool policeman.

Filled with excellently shot scenes and some great dialogue, if this is your first venture into Hong Kong cinema you won’t be disappointed.

The Podfather Score: 7.875/10

-A.A

Get Carter (1971)

Regarded as one of the best British gangster films of all time, Get Carter came at the time in Michael Caine’s career in which he had already started his ascent to becoming one of the most iconic British actors of all time. With one Oscar nomination already under his belt for Alfie (1966) and having starred in critical and commercial hits such as Zulu (1964) and The Italian Job (1969), Caine was the perfect candidate to play the titular Jack Carter. The film sees Carter, a London based crook, head home to Newcastle to figure out who killed his brother, much to the chagrin of those who’d done the deed. A simple enough premise, but one that gets muddied when Carter stumbles upon a pornographic film featuring his beloved niece, Doreen, and Carter’s revenge plot begins. 

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Get Carter (dir. Mike Hodges, DOP Wolfgang Suschitzky)

Get Carter, like many gangster movies before and after, is a mostly fun experience for an audience. There’s a generous sprinkling of dry British humour, and some spoonfuls of the brutal killings that gangster films are known for, but there’s also a hefty dollop of ‘good old fashioned sexism’ thrown in for good measure, and this is what makes the film hardest to watch. It’s tough seeing an actor as beloved as Michael Caine treat women with such reckless abandon that even Tony Montana would wince, and while this may not have been as big of a deal for audiences in 1971, it certainly makes the film harder to watch in 2016. Not to say that Get Carter isn’t a beautifully shot, raw, gritty gangster film – it is all that and more – it’s just as if the film tries so hard to make the female characters (who are infinitely more interesting than many of the men) mere pawns in Jack Carter’s story, rather than giving them any payoff for themselves.

If you’re a fan of Michael Caine or British cinema then this film is still a must-watch, but if you are expecting a classic from 45 years ago to have aged gracefully and maintain its shine – you might be sorely disappointed.

The Podfather Score: 6/10

– J.B

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

Welcome to London basin of gravy! And everything that comes with it. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is Guy Ritchie’s first feature length film that is essentially the British Reservoir Dogs. Instead of methodical wise-guys in suits, we’re presented with chaotic geezers, and instead of a bank robbery we’re flown through deal after deal and disaster after disaster. With a bunch of cockney slang to help us along!

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Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (dir. Guy Ritchie, DOP Tim Maurice-Jones)

Along with a creative style, great dialogue and interesting characters (though lacking some depth), Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is  a refreshing take on the gangster genre and an excellent insight into a different world of crime. Though it loses it’s flow here and there, the movie’s pace and ease to follow should be praised. It’s impossible to describe the plot to a china plate, but a pleasure to sit through.

The Podfather Score: 7.5/10

– A.A

Scarface (1983)

Not about the original 1932 film and not about the rapper you probably didn’t know about, this is about the 1983 film remake worshipped by both civilised people and every ghetto af celebrity you’ve seen on MTV Cribs, including myself. Directed by Brian De Palma and Written by Oliver Stone, the film takes viewers on a journey of humble yet troubled beginnings to exuberant volatile riches, harnessing the average person’s desires of money and power, albeit through questionable means.

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Scarface (dir. Brian De Palma, DOP John A. Alonzo)

Amongst the more well received gangster films, this movie is set during the cocaine fuelled 1980’s where Cuban immigrant Antonio Montana, portrayed by Al Pacino, migrates to Miami with lifelong friends, in particular Manny Ribera (Steven Bauer), escaping their former struggles with communism to pursue better things. In the process, the group find themselves operating in the lucrative cocaine industry of the times, led by Montana and Ribera. With that comes a progressive rise to power at the many costs of others, ultimately including themselves. However, it is the means at which they reach the ‘top’ that are synonymous of the film genre and the main reason to take part in the experience. Leaving a distinct impact on popular culture, the film leaves us with endless memorabilia, and more quotes than Mean Girls. With ambitions of power and greed still ever-present, and a strong love for the anti-hero, the legacy of this movie will remain for years to come.

The Podfather Score: 7.625/10

– G.V

(George Vasiliadis)