Villain: The Saddest Of The Gangland Films

1/5

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

A recently released convict, played by Craig Fairbrass, must try and save his families pub from gangland threats.

To me this film failed to be in any way fun, yes though it is a different type of fun a lot of the gangland films, particularly those with Danny Dyer, have enough charm or gravitas to keep you around and enjoying yourself until the end of the film, this didn’t have that.

Not only was this film depressing, it was morbidly depressing, and seemed to go out of its way to be grim and off putting, honestly watching it made me sad. I understand the point the film was trying to make by having Fairbrass’ character die at the end, the superfluousness of his life style and how in the end even if you win you die, and it did deliver this message however, it just made the film feel even more of a downer and left a bit of a bad taste as well.

Fairbrass is fine he is playing a slightly toned down version of his Rise Of The Foot Soldier character. He tries hard to try and round the character and to add emotional depth though this ends in a colossal failure.

Overall, who was this made for?

Pros.

It is short

Fairbrass is trying

Cons.

The ending

It is depressing

There is no charm to it

It has pacing issues galore  

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The Many Saints Of Newark: Did You Really Save The Theme Song Till The End

3.5/5

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

This film serves as a prequel to the beloved gangster TV series The Sopranos showing Tony’s, here played by Michael Gandolfini, younger years.

I enjoyed this film, but it was not perfect. Firstly do not watch this film if you have not seen the series beforehand. It is not easily understandable if you haven’t seen the series, you won’t understand various elements of the plot. However, if you are a fan of the show you will find a lot to enjoy here from Christopher’s, Michael Imperioli, ghostly narration of things to come to the show’s opening credits music playing as the film ends. One thing I will note is though I enjoyed how this film paid off the series there were a number of inconsistencies that soured my enjoyment somewhat.

The trailers for this film have lied to you, for rather obvious reasons, as this film is not really about Tony Soprano and rather instead about Dickie Moltisanti, Alessandro Nivola.  We see Tony and his family appear but they are side characters at best. I thought the focus on Dickie helped keep the film feeling fresh and I enjoyed his story for the most part. The race war aspects I thought were needless as they do not pay off in the show in any way and feel instead like an unnecessary attempt to be political. I think it would have made more sense to focus on in fighting amongst the family with Dickie having to try and fight off assassination attempts from various members after his early in the film secret is slowly revealed.

Overall, it is a pleasant return to that world, was it needed? No not really but it could have been worse. More good than bad.

Pros.

Further exploring the world

Good tension

Solid drama and action

The theme song playing at the end

Cons.

It is not really about Tony     

The race war storyline doesn’t feel needed

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Black Mass: The Comeback That Never Quite Panned Out

3.5/5

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

This film recounts the life of ‘Whitey’ Bulger, here played by Johnny Depp.

This film always feels like a shame to me. Not because the film is bad but because it could have been the start of a big comeback for Depp and yet it never panned out.

I think that this is one of Depp’s finest roles, he manages to capture the ruthless killer whilst also making us somewhat like/understand him. The character that Depp brings to life in a nuanced and multi layered way reminds us that no character is simply good or bad but shades in-between.

Moreover, this film is also strengthened by a terrific supporting cast with Benedict Cumberbatch, Jessie Plemons and Joel Edgerton all giving terrific performances and really helping to bring the film together. Cumberbatch in particular steals the show here.

I also think the score of the film adds a lot and serves to nicely compliment the film and reflect the emotion of the scenes. I would say of all the gangster films I have seen this one’s soundtrack was the only one to stick with me after watching.

My main criticism of the film would be the pace, the film takes a long time to get where it is going. Though his early life is interesting the film spends far too much time there and not nearly enough time on his later life.

Overall, a strong Johnny Deep fronted gangster film.

Pros.

Deep

The supporting cast

The score

The ending

Cons.

The pacing

A very slow start

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The Birthday Cake: What Is In The Box?

4.5/5

Written by Luke Barnes

This film is the best gangster/crime film I have seen in a while. The pacing of this film is terrific, and it takes you on one hell of a ride. There are scenes in this film where I was on the edge of my seat, I know that is a cliché, but for once it accurately describes the situation.

I enjoyed how this film places so much emphasis on its titular cake, always making sure to feature it in every sequence throughout the film. Moreover, the final reveal involving the cake makes the film, or at least it did for me, it was so perfectly built up to and it truly delivers.

Furthermore, the acting is strong across the board with every actor bringing their A game to this project and being memorable as a result. I would be hard pressed to pick a favourite moment from the film as the whole of it is so good and each actor really has their own moment to shine.

My one criticism of this film would be that it could have better used Ewan McGregor, as he is barely in the film though when he does appear he steals the scene.  I would have liked the film to further explore the relationship between his character and Gio as clearly he is somewhat of a mentor to him, but we don’t really see this happen on-screen and can only imply it as an explanation.

Overall, perhaps the best gangster film of the year.

Pros.

The cast is terrific

The cake payoff

The tension

The pacing

Cons.

Under-using McGregor

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Brotherhood: Nudity Over Transformative Life Experiences, How To Cheapen A Series With The Final Installment

Brotherhood is a crime film directed by Noel Clarke. The plot serves as a continuation of the previous films Kidulthood and Adulthood serving to be the final film in the series. The plot sees Sam (Clarke), brough back into the game for one final showdown after his brother gets shot.

So this film pushed things a bit too far, by that I mean the running theme throughout this series is how bad this life is serving to discourage people who want to pursuit this kind of lifestyle, however this film glorifies a life of crime and undermines the whole series.

Moreover, this film moves fully away from the drama genre and tries hard to become an action film, which it does well, but it just shows how far this film has moved away from its roots. Personally, I enjoyed the gritty violence and one-upmanship in this film, it reminded me of great 00s crime films like The Business which is a pro for sure.

Likewise, I thought the ending of the film felt satisfying both as an ending to this film and as an ending to the series as a whole: it felt very much like Sam’s Character arc from the first film had gone full circle in a very real and believable way which was nice to see.

A final note about this film is that I felt the level of nudity in it felt too much at times, maybe even slightly exploitative. Clarke really does distract from the good points and clever writing of this film by having naked women constantly on-screen to keep the attention of every teenage boy in the audience, and honestly it really does cheapen the film.

Overall, a flawed but fitting end to the series.

Pros.

The ending

Closing the arc

The gritty violence

Clarke

Cons.

It glorifies while seeking to dissuade

The nudity

3.5/5

Reviewed by Luke  

       

Adulthood: Older And Wiser?

Adulthood is a crime film directed by Noel Clarke (who also stars). The plot continues on from the events of Kidulthood, we see Sam (Clarke), be released from prison after the murder he committed at the end of the previous film. During his time inside Sam, has become an entirely different person who just wants to live a quiet life and get away from the things he has done. This is made harder by the friends and family of the boy he killed putting a hit out on him.

I think this film really achieved the deterring nature that the series was going for, we can see how Sam is haunted by what he did and how everyday he lives with the consequences, wishing he could go back and change it. The Sam we meet here is far more reformed and wiser, he knows that the life he was living before is going nowhere hence why he wants to move on with his life.

This this time around Sam is our protagonist, and though he might not be a likeable lead as he is still a child killer/ teen killer after all, the emotional nuance of the film allows us the see the situation in a less black and white way making the characters reform seem more believable and allowing us the audience to root for him more.

The tension and the gritty, harsh action compliment the film beautifully and really help to make its message standout. There are a number of scenes where you are on edge waiting to see how a scene will play out. This film is definitely more action orientated then the last which was more drama focused, this does change the viewing experience somewhat, but the films still feel stylistically the same.

Overall, in many ways this may be the best film in the trilogy as it manages to show us this bleak world in a widder scale and harsher intensity then the first film, making us better understand the struggle.

Pros.

Clarke, both as a director and actor

The emotional beats and the character arcs

Really managing to push the deterrent angle

The ending

The tension and the action

Cons.

It can be very hard to watch at times

5/5

Reviewed by Luke  

The Untouchables: Never Get Between Sean Connery And An Italian Person

The Untouchables is a crime epic directed by Brian De Palma. The plot focuses on the early life of Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner), as he fights to bring down organised crime in Chicago and stop the notorious Al Capone (Robert DeNiro).

I enjoyed this film quite a lot, it was very fun to watch. I enjoyed the mentor role of Sean Connery’s character and thought that he had great chemistry with the rest of the cast. I do, however, think because Connery’s performance was so good he might have outshone Costner’s lead just a little bit, which no doubt would be infuriating for Costner. Costner’s Ness for the most part was your typical straight lace man of the law, gone bad by the end, type. Costner brought nothing to the role that could not have been done by another actor, he was fairly interchangeable. 

I thought there were a lot of strong moments and sequences that were both tense and thrilling: I think the death of Connery’s character is one and I think the courthouse roof scene is another. However, despite these great scenes the film does suffer from pacing issues and struggles to maintain this sense of tension throughout. My main complaint in this regard is that scenes often play out for much longer than they should, thereby becoming bloated.

DeNiro’s Capone is fine, he is a very hateable character which is what the film was probably going for, however, he is nothing more than a hateable low life there is no nuance there or further look into his character he is simply an antagonist and nothing more.

Overall, pacing issues aside this is a fun ride with a great performance from Connery. The rest of the cast let the film down to a degree and stop it from achieving true heights, but it is still good.
Pros.

Connery

The thrills

The action

Cons.

Costner

DeNiro

3/5

Reviewed by Luke

Arkansas: Vince Vaughn Is The Godfather

Arkansas is a neo-noir crime film directed by Clark Duke, based on the John Brandon novel of the same name. The plot sees two budding drug runners move up the ranks of the ‘Dixie Mafia’ after their boss dies, however without direction they find themselves trapped in a cycle of violence and expansion.

I enjoyed this film a lot more than I first thought I would, I thought when I first put this film on that it might be yet another generic crime film, but it is so much more than that.

Firstly, I like the chaptered approach and how the story jumps around in time. Moreover, it is a strength of the film that neither the Vince Vaughn storyline nor the Liam Hemsworth storyline is prioritised over the other as in the end it is all part of a much bigger cyclical tale.

I thought the worldbuilding was well done, and I would like to see another film set in this Southern world of organised crime; it feels to me like a really under tapped market that is begging to be explored in further depth.

On an acting front Vaughn is strong here, he plays the role completely straight and nails the dramatic moments and the emotion of the character. This film really does prove, if there was any doubt left, that Vaughn can do both drama and comedy well. Hemsworth on the other hand is not as strong, his performance is very one note with him not being able to conjure much up, other than his angsty anger.

Overall, a very strong crime film that could have benefited from a different lead.

Pros.

The worldbuilding

The focus on the ‘Dixie Mob’

Vaughn

The chapters and the flashbacks themselves

Cons.

Hemsworth is not a good actor

4/5

Reviewed by Luke

King Of New York: Live By The Sword Die By The Sword

King Of New York is a neo-noir crime thriller film directed by Abel Ferrara. The plot sees infamous mob figure Frank White (Christopher Walken), released from prison and then set about taking his city back only to become targeted by a band of corrupt police officers.

For those of you who like gangster films, this is a work of art. It is very much in line with something like Cronenberg’s Eastern Promise as this is more of a thinky gangster film rather than just a senseless shoot em up, though there are plenty of those sort of scenes.

The inner dialogue that begs the question are men like White inevitable? Are they representative of the city, a by product in some sort of way? These questions prove fascinating as we break down Frank as a person and see how it is that he is the King of New York’s underworld.

The violence in the film feels bold and punchy, it strikes you as real and visceral and leaves a mark. In this regard Lawrence Fishburne’s Jimmy steals the show. Jimmy is unhinged throughout the film, but his night time fight with corrupt police might be his best and most unhinged moment. I think this is a career best performance for Fishburne and it makes me want to explore more of his back catalogue.

Overall, a very grisly and effecting crime tail and leaves you shocked and horrified but also with a few pertinent questions in mind.

Pros.

Walken

Fishburne

The violence

The psychology

The noir like feel of the film

Cons.

None

5/5

Reviewed by Luke   

Eastern Promise: Viggo In The Russian Mob

Eastern Promise is a gangster film directed by David Cronenberg. The plot tells the story of an abandoned baby from a 14-year-old drug addict. Anna (Naomi Watts), delves into the Russian underworld to try and trace the roots of this now dead junkie, so that her baby can have a chance at a future.

I loved the world of the Russian mob that this film dives into, it is so deep and layered, there is so much to it and all is explored in great detail. Furthermore, this film teaches us the audience a great deal that we might not know in this regard, such as the importance of tattoos within the mob.

Watts is fine, serviceable but not much more, however the real star here is Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen). Mortensen gives a very strong performance that feels nuanced and well delivered, he is so much more than the thug character type he has so much more personality than that. The twist with his character, that I won’t spoil here, is quite obvious but it still works well.

The ending of the film does set it up for a sequel, which I think could be great if it continues to dive further into this world; however according to Cronenberg himself it is dead.

Overall, a bit more thinky than most Gangster films, the plot and the themes are just as important as the violence.

Pros.

A deep world

An intriguing story

Viggo Mortensen

The twist works

Cons.

Naomi Watts is very eh

4/5

Reviewed by Luke