Gangs of New York

Gangs of New York

“When you kill a king, you don’t stab him in the dark. You kill him where the entire court can watch him die.”

New York City in the mid-19th century was a dark and dangerous place. You wouldn’t know that today from reading Transcendentalist essays, Little Women, or Edgar Allen Poe, all works of that time. We have these romanticized notions of what America was like for the waves of immigrants coming to the new world to seek fortune and a new life, but for most, it was a violent hell. No movie portrays this little corner of American history better than Gangs of New York. Directed by the extremely talented Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Goodfellas) and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, and Daniel Day-Lewis, this is a portrait of the volatile culture, the primitive politics, and the shocking violence of this time and place. It’s bloody and raw and almost oppressive in its adversity—but it’s also enthralling and very entertaining.

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Goodfellas

Goodfellas

“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”

Since The Godfather basically defined the crime genre in 1972, there have been a lot of imitators and followers, some good and some bad, but nothing ever came close to the original. It’s hard to compare, but I’d say that Goodfellas came pretty close in 1990. (Legendary critic Roger Ebert actually preferred Goodfellas to The Godfather.) Directed by Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, The Wolf of Wall Street) and starring Ray Liotta, Robert de Niro, Joe Pesci, and Lorraine Bracco, this is a mobster story with as much depth and humanity as The Godfather, but it shows a different side of the story. The Godfather shows the view at the top—the big boss and his family calling all the shots. Goodfellas shows the working man’s view of organized crime—a kid trying to break into the business and make a name for himself. The film is actually based on real-life mobsters, one of whom consulted on much of the film, so there’s a real authenticity to the film that’s missing in most crime films. It’s a great entry in the crime genre that I believe deserves a place right next to some of the biggest names in the genre.

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The Departed

The Departed

“We have a question: Do you want to be a cop, or do you want to appear to be a cop? It’s an honest question.”

So Scorsese directed another gangster film. After Gangs of New York, Goodfellas, Mean Streets, and more, you’d think this would be old hat. But this movie is brilliantly conceived, masterfully executed, and thoroughly enjoyable. Martin Scorsese takes the helm, and Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Jack Nicholson deliver incredible performances. The art direction, from the cinematography to the soundtrack, are perfect for this movie. It’s not The Godfather (but, really, what is?); but I’ll admit, I had more fun watching The Departed than I’ve had watching any other gangster movie.

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Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver

“Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.”

Taxi Driver, directed by Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Departed) and starring Robert De Niro, is a snapshot of Travis Bickle, a disturbed and lonely Vietnam War veteran who works as a taxi driver in New York City. The story and the man are conflicted: wanting to do the right thing, but not equipped to handle the intricacies of every-day life, vacillating between right and wrong. Travis’s growing hopelessness and descent into madness are poignant and sympathetic, leaving the viewer wondering where to draw the line between good and evil.

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