Rewind to January 2013. Gangster movie aficionados eagerly awaited the release of Sean Penn’s “Gangster Squad,” the Ruben Fleischer-directed period piece that also starred Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, and Emma Stone. Unfortunately, the film didn’t quite live up to expectations, earning a paltry 32% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and grossing just over $46M domestic against a reported $60M budget.
Despite its disappointments, there was much to be eager about before the film opened. American audiences hadn’t had a great gangster flick in a while (2012’s “Lawless” was far from flawless, and “The Departed” was six and a half years old by then). As a lead-in to the film’s opening weekend, Press Play’s Matt Zoller Seitz and Nelson Carvajal reminded fans of the genre of all there is to love about mob movies with a four and a half minute video essay Carvajal put together.
The video, which naturally includes some of history’s best gangster films, such as “Casino,” “The Departed,” “Donnie Brasco,” “The Godfather” (parts 1 and 2), “Goodfellas,” and “The Untouchables,” highlights what it means to be a gangster, and why moviegoers are so fascinated with mobster culture. Zoller Seitz captures the feeling perfectly when he writes, “In these films, death comes to kingpins and flunkies alike. If you’re part of the underworld, you have to accept this as a given: one minute you’re swaggering down the street with a curvy dame on your arm, thinking about your next big score and tipping bartenders $100 just for keeping the ice cubes cold, and the next minute you’re being led into a room you thought would contain an open bar and a card game, only to find it empty save for two big guys with handcuffs and a couple of crowbars.”
Now that the first trailer for Johnny Depp’s new mafia film, “Black Mass,” is freshly online, it’s a great time to revisit Carvajal’s video essay. As Zoller Seitz further elaborates, “When we watch gangster films, we get to indulge the fantasy of living life without rules, plus a reminder of why people shouldn’t do that: party on Saturday, church on Sunday, with a bit of the old ultraviolence tossed into the mix. No genre balances attraction and repulsion more deftly, or manages to be so immoral, amoral, and moralistic all at once.” It’s hard to think of an upcoming release that so perfectly captures the sentiment as “Black Mass.”
Check out the original article here, and you can revisit the video below, which, in addition to the above mentioned films, also includes scenes from “Hoodlum,” “The Public Enemy,” “Road to Perdition,” “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” and “True Romance.” “Black Mass” hits theaters September 18.