In his incredible eponymous 1972 adaptation of Mario Puzo’s best-selling novel The Godfather released in 1969, Francis Ford Coppola outdid the author. With Puzo and Coppola both working on the script, the film, which continues to reign supreme in the hearts of cinephiles and film critics, brought home various awards and accolades. Staying faithful to the source material, the film sees Sicilian Mafioso paterfamilias battle it out among themselves to assert their dominance causing the family structures to fall apart with gruesome violence and intense bloodshed.
The Godfather celebrates various tropes that are omnipresent in gangster and Mafia films — themes of friendship, loyalty, betrayal, family, bloodlust and vengeance. While the sequels are probably no match for the first film that boasts of an excellent ensemble including the legendary Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Al Pacino, James Caan and more, Coppola asserts his dominance in this sector with his masterpiece (Apocalypse Now is possibly looking at us in indignation).
On The Godfather’s 49th anniversary, we decided to take a look at films that all gangster and Mafia film aficionados will enjoy. While we promise you that we do not run an Al Pacino stan account, one cannot forget that this handsome badass has been in too many good Mafia films.
Here are 10 Netflix films that all The Godfather fans shall enjoy watching.
LAPD Officer Jake Hoyt is assigned for an evaluation which is headed by narcotics officer Sergeant Alonzo Harris. However, Hoyt soon realises that Alonzo’s methods are not ethical; he is corrupt and hopes to frame Hoyt for his crimes.
Although the thriller has the classic ‘good cop’ meets ‘bad cop’ plot, Denzel Washington’s role as the malicious Alonzo earned him truckloads of praise from critics for venturing “into the dark side as a seriously corrupt narcotics cop…. And the results are electrifying”. Ethan Hawke as the beat and honest cop who despises dishonesty is compelling; his timid moral uprightness keeps the audience debating over whether he shall sell out. Brutal violence and crude profanities heighten the tension in this intensely gripping film.
“King Kong ain’t got shit on me!”
An old school masterpiece, the film focuses on Frank Sheeran, a truck driver-turned-hitman who works in close collaboration with a north-eastern Pennsylvania crime family, headed by Russell Bufalino. Frank begins “painting houses”, a code word for contract-killing and is cold and charismatic. Eventually, he is introduced to the fiery Jimmy Hoffa who has ties with organised crime. Scorsese’s brand-new outlook on the gangster genre is phenomenal.
Finely curated, the film boasts of a heavyweight ensemble, including Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and more. Pacino is exhausted and vulnerable yet loud and funny. DeNiro as the cold-blooded killer does not talk much and carries out his orders without breaking into a cold sweat. Pesci is equally compelling and communicates with his mere presence. Reminiscent of Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, the film conveys how the upcoming modernity is changing the ways of the old world. The film ends on a poignant note, and with Scorsese’s name in the credits, it is almost heartbreaking to think of how the golden era has come to an end. A brilliant epic, it features the dream team while paying tribute to the dying genre via the inevitable doom that awaits the characters.
“You don’t know how fast time goes until you get there.”
In what are Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington’s first-ever leading roles, they deliver phenomenal performances, cementing their legacy in Hollywood. Josh Brolin and the rest of the supporting cast are splendid as well. Scott borrows heavily from films like Scarface, The Godfather, Goodfellas and more, deriving inspiration from tropes in gangster films, blaxploitation films and that of a level-headed crime lord. The gripping narrative is complemented by dynamic on-screen presences and the visual grandeur exuded by the performances of the two greatest actors in the history of cinema.
Based on the true story, the film revolves around Frank Lucas, after he establishes a prosperous Harlem heroin import business after the death of his leader Bumpy Johnson. He ensures his position by forming loyal allies in the New York Mafia. The plot is also centred on Newark cop Richie Roberts who is ostracised for his honesty. Heading the joint narcotics task force with the federal government, he is determined to bring the drug lord down.
“This is my home. My country. Frank Lucas don’t run from nobody. This is America.”
Adapted from a Nicholas Pileggi novel, the film revolves around Robert De Niro’s Jewish American gambling expert persona by the name of Sam “Ace” Rothstein who is entrusted with overseeing the operations at Tangiers Casino in Las Vegas. The trials and tribulations faced by Ace include operational difficulties due to subsequent Mafia involvement which lead to the further disintegration of his relationships and marital life, with a rapidly changing Las Vegas as its background.
A fine blend of violence, tragedy, mishaps, exuberance, jazz and humour, the film is a delicately balanced masterpiece. Supported by a brilliant ensemble including Joe Pesci, James Woods, Sharon Stone, Frank Vincent, Kevin Pollard etc., Robert De Niro as the principal character delivers an outstanding performance as the troubled casino handler. A tale of American opulence and excess, the exhilarating performances take Scorsese’s carefully crafted humorous and jazzy film forward.
“For guys like me, Las Vegas washes away your sins. It’s like a morality car wash.”
Cuban refugee Tony Montana is given a green card along with his friends Manny Ray, Angel and Chi Chi by Miami drug kingpin Frank Lopez in exchange for their services where they murder a former Cuban general. As Tony starts progressing into the Miami drug trade, he is brutal and merciless and kills anyone who is an obstacle in his path to move forward. Slowly, he becomes a massive druglord and controls all cocaine operations; however, his drug-fuelled benders coupled with rising pressure from the police and their hostilities towards the Colombian drug cartels bring ruin to his cocaine empire.
During the screening, Martin Scorsese allegedly told one of the actors, Steven Bauer that they were “great”, but needed to “be prepared because they’re going to hate it in Hollywood … because it’s about them.” The film sees Al Pacino revel in the grandiose and excess of his hypnotic role of Tony Montana which seems to be tailormade for him. The film boasts of ultra-violence and highlights the impending doom. Raging cynicism makes the film draw a line between morality and grandeur. Pacino and De Palma together push the limits of a conventional gangster film, producing a masterfully crafted film that shall make the viewers shudder.
“The only thing I got in this world is my balls, and my word, and I don’t break ’em for nobody.”
While constantly infiltrating each other’s organisation, Boston Police officer, Billy Costigan, and Boston Mob member, Colin Sullivan, are embroiled in a vicious cat and mouse chase. They find moles in their respective organizations and go to various lengths to prevent that from getting exposed.
One of Scorsese’s best films to that date, The Departed boasts of a heavyweight ensemble that includes Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg and Leonardo DiCaprio among others. According to Entertainment Weekly, “If they’re lucky, directors make one classic film in their career. Martin Scorsese has one per decade (Taxi Driver in the ’70s, Raging Bull in the ’80s, Goodfellas in the ’90s). His 2006 Irish Mafia masterpiece kept the streak alive.” In his third successive film with Scorsese, Leo as the hot-headed Costigan brings a wonderful emotional depth and maturity to his character. Fiercely entertaining, it is a shame how Leo did not get a nomination at the Academy.
“When I was your age, they would say you could become cops or criminals; today what I’m saying to you is this: When facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?”
Lorenzo is an honest and law-abiding citizen whose son Calogero gets taken under the wing of the local mobster Sonny. Much to the displeasure of Lorenzo, Sonny teaches the way of gangster-life to Calogero who becomes his trusted associate and confidante. However, when Calogero falls in love with Jane, an African-American classmate, this affair threatens to upend the peace of the neighbourhood, adhering to contemporary tension, jeopardising Calogero’s life as well as the lives of the people that matter to him.
In his directorial debut, De Niro hits the right chord with a perfect portrayal of the turbulent socio-political climate of the 1960s. With racial tensions high between the African-American and the Italian-American communities, Calogero and Jane’s romantic affair seems to be the only hope of narrowing the unbridgeable gap. An understanding ensemble helps deliver magnificent performances that make this coming-of-age gangster film one of its kind and reward the audience with an emotional rollercoaster ride where De Niro moves them while enhancing conventional tropes.
“The only thing that matters is what’s good for you and how you feel about each other.”
Sergio Leone’s magnum opus was a gangster film about Jewish gangster and organised crime in New York City; when Leone finally directed the film, he died shortly after, making this his final film. Adapted from a novel, The Hoods, the film revolves around the lives of David (known as Noodles) and Maxmillian (known as Max), who leads a group of gangsters in a Jewish ghetto to prominence. Leone’s longtime friend and music composer Ennio Morricone said, “I consider it Sergio’s masterpiece.”
The film hauntingly explores themes of childhood, friendship, trust, loyalty, betrayal, greed, loss and the gangster life. To enhance the effect the Morriconian soundtracks had been employed, which brought out the themes of the bygone times and the past slowly disintegrating into fragments, fading away. Nearly poetic, the film reeks of gruesome violence and exalting greed and is one of the greatest films of all time set in the Prohibition Era.
“It’s 10:25. And I’ve got nothing left to lose.”
Adapted from Nicholas Pileggi’s book Wiseguy, the film revolves around the lives of three pivotal figures and their lives as a part of the 1960s and ‘70s New York mafia. It follows the journey of a young, petty criminal Henry Hill, who along with his friends, the jack-of-all-trades Jimmy Conway and the intimidating Tommy DeVito, ascends the organized crime ladder to live a life of luxury. Unbeknownst to him, the brutalities soon cause a sea change in their lives, bringing into the picture the question of survival.
An obvious fan favourite, this film made Scorsese the household name he is. The film, which questions the extent of willful ignorance on the part of an individual towards his compatriot’s immorality, stars an incredible ensemble comprising Robert De Niro, Jo Pesci, Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco and Paul Sorvino. The rehearsals led to a variety of improvs and ad-libs which gave the actors creative freedom to express themselves and the best ones were retained in the improvised script. Deemed “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant”, Goodfellas is considered one of the greatest films of all time. Scorsese had used “all the basic tricks of the New Wave from around 1961” to create his masterpiece. Phenomenal performances and a crisp, gritting narrative make this Scorsese’s greatest film of all time.
“Never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut.”
When an FBI agent Joseph Pistone, under the alias name of Donie Brasco, infiltrates the deadly Bonanno family, he quickly gains the favour of an ageing gangster named Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero. As he mafioso and the agent become great friends, the agent’s loyalty as an undercover agent forces him to betray his friend despite knowing that it may lead to the mafioso’s death.
Adapted fro Pistone’s book Donnie Brasco: My undercover Life in the Mafia, the film sees an electrifying camaraderie shared by Johnny Depp and Al Pacino as the ageing Mafioso and the undercover agent respectively. It is a subtle, nuanced and well-crafted portrayal of the friendships in organised crime while leaving a blow with betrayal and the call of duty. The final scene, especially, is heart-rending and Pacino’s wonderful and subtle exit, since he knows his fated ending, adds beauty and grace to the already aching film.
“If Donnie called, tell him… tell him that if it was going to be anyone, I’m glad it was him.”
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