Mafia movies are a very delicate niche of cinema. And very few know how to depict the organized crime world properly. Brian De Palma did it nicely; Francis Ford Coppola did it beautifully as well.
But I feel like that Martin Scorsese perfected the mafia movies. His most recent project The Irishman was a huge success, but for now, let’s take a step back. Way back, in the early 20th century.
Mafia in the movies
Let’s start with answering the question. What are Mafia movies? Well, they’re a type of sub-genre of the gangster movies who specifically deal with the Mafia organizations and organized crime. They’ve had their Hollywood heyday in the early ’30s.
James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson and other legendary screen icons popularized the Mafia movie. And of course, there was a bit of noire intertwined throughout as well. Furthermore, the Great Depression’s suffering even made the very charismatic anti-heroes exciting to watch.
The mobsters had a quick rise and even quicker fall from grace, but their fight to get out of poverty was relatable for so many in that era. Through every means necessary indeed.
Mafia movies and Martin Scorsese
However, the sub-genre seems to die down in the decades that followed. And it wasn’t until Martin Scorsese came along and revived the sub-genre. Frankly, he’s been nurturing the Mafia movies ever since, and his extensive rich career is the proof of that.
The ’70s marked the revival of the Mafia movies in Hollywood. And it’s in that decade precisely, the greatest directors graced us with classics like Mean Streets, Godfather (1 and 2), Get Carter, The French Connection and The Friends of Eddie Coyle.
Martin Scorsese is, of course, the undisputed king of the Mafia movies, but over here in this post, we’re going to be focusing on a different classic.
Mafia: The Video Game
But just what is Mafia (the video game) all about? Well, it’s an action-adventure video game developed by Illusion Softworks. It traces the rise and fall of Tommy Angelo, a fictional Mafioso in the 1930s. In Mafia II we follow Vito Scaletta on his path to prove himself to the Mafia, going up the family ladder. On the other hand, Mafia III follows Lincoln Clay. A Vietnam War veteran and criminal who aims to build a new crime organization while seeking revenge on the Italian mob.
It’s up to you to choose which one to pick up and enjoy. Certainly, we have a wide selection to choose from.
What’s the appeal?
First of all, let me just mention that there’s a diverse group of Mafia movies. In most cases, they’re depicting a special Mafia family, and thus they’re geographically and ethnically diverse as well. There is the Italian mafia, there’s the Irish mafia, and Japan has the Yakuza. Likewise, the organization is not always intertwined within the family, but in most movies… it is. Hence the title of this post. Family plays a huge role in the mafia movies, but that’s only half of the story.
And in all honesty, before I discuss the appeal of the mafia movies, I must mention something else. Frankly, there are very few movies (Hollywood made or not) that don’t glorify the mafia. Even to a certain extent Coppola and Scorsese did it, at some point in their careers. At best, they portrayed the biggest mobsters as flawed family men who run their own family business.
They weren’t quite focusing on the fact that they were calculated, murderous and vicious criminals. Whether it’s racketeering, extortion, coercing, or straight up killing. In the movies, their criminal activities are always dealt with „kid gloves“. Violence is there to help the story, and each of the organizations has a different code of values and rules. Which only adds to the appeal I might add. You know, besides lingering in the other side of the law.
The Godfather II is a true masterpiece
Let me give you an example. Let me break down one of my favorite scenes ever. The „pear“ scene from Godfather II. Young Vito Corleone (played by Robert DeNiro) is laid off from the grocery store.
The local mobster orchestrates the event in favor of his nephew. So because the owner of the grocery store didn’t want for this to happen he offers Vito a basket filled with food. He politely refuses, but he brings home one single pear to his wife. It’s all that he could afford honestly. Vito puts the pear on the table and his wife lights up when she sees it. They sit down to have dinner and then CUT!. The scene ends.
The simplicity of the scene, the warmth, and the serenity of his life in the middle of such an event is truly the key message here. It even sets up the tone to Vito’s character nicely. It’s a true testament of genius film-making, but at the same time, it says something about the rise of Vito. He’s a proud and strong man. Soon to become a leader of an organization. A head of a „family“ if you will.
And instead of coming home depressed and pissed, he came come with a gift that meant so much to his wife. A simple pear. He didn’t burden her with the news at that moment. He didn’t even said a word actually. To be honest, all he wanted was to come home, surprise his wife, and to have a quiet meal together.
Mission accomplished. And I think that’s the whole point. Family is an extremely important aspect (especially in mafia movies) and a good family base will get you far. At least that’s my takeaway point of the mafia movies. What’s yours?
Other great movies worth mentioning
But aside from The Godfather II, what other great Mafia movies are worth mentioning here? Well, some of my personal favorites include movies like Goodfellas, Once Upon A Time In America, The Departed, Carlito’s Way, The Long Good Friday, A Bronx Tale, and Eastern Promises. Almost all of them have either DeNiro or Al Pacino in the leads, but I don’t care. I adore every single one of them. I could watch them over and over again, and I wouldn’t mind.
What are your favorite Mafia movies? Do you enjoy the videogame(s) as well? Tell us all about it in the comment section. We’d love to hear your mafia picks.