Underrated Gangster Movies That Aren't About The Mafia
When you think about gangster movies, what titles come to mind? Probably The Godfather and Goodfellas, and possibly the more recent The Irishman. Those films and many others specifically focus on the Italian Mafia. Dozens and dozens of films have dealt with that world over the decades. Some are classics, like the aforementioned titles, others less so.
The Italian mob isn't the only one in the world, though, nor is it the only one depicted on-screen. Irish mob movies like The Departed and Black Mass, and yakuza movies like Onimasa and Battles Without Honor and Humanity have gained prominent recognition. If you've seen those classics but still have a hankering for a good gangster movie that isn't about the traditional Mafia, the following underrated titles will fit the bill. In each case, they deliver plenty of entertainment. Several of them even have elements that are true to life in terms of the milieu they're portraying. All of them are worth taking a chance on.
Which of these gangster movies that isn't about the Mafia is the most effective? Vote for your favorites.
- 1121 VOTESPhoto: Focus Features
David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises is a notoriously stark tale involving the Russian mafia. A teenage girl fatally hemorrhages while delivering a baby, and her midwife (Naomi Watts) becomes obsessed with her diary, which is written in Russian. She seeks help translating it, discovering in the process that the mob might want to harm the newborn. Viggo Mortensen plays Nikolai, the driver for one of the mob higher-ups. He helps her get to the bottom of things. Even if you've never seen the film, you may have heard about its most famous scene, a fight in a bathhouse during which the nude Nikolai brutally dispatches of some bad guys.
A big part of why the movie packs such a punch is that Cronenberg and his star took pains to make it realistic. Nikolai is covered in tattoos, a nod to the inking process of the actual Russian mob. In their world, tattoos represent status, family, and loyalty. It's a small yet significant detail that immediately suggests the character is a serious individual, and not someone to be messed with. Watching this violent man gradually reveal the sense of morality inside is riveting.
- 2132 VOTESPhoto: Gramercy Pictures
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels follows four friends who get in over their heads after playing a high-stakes poker game with a crime lord. He's a big-time cheater, so they lose and consequently have to come up with half a million pounds in just a week. If they don't, it's lights out, permanently. Their solution is to steal money from other crooks. Thus begins a wild, violent, sometimes darkly funny adventure.
The movie represents an early example of the wit and style director Guy Ritchie would make his bread and butter. This is a hard-boiled, two-fisted crime drama with vivid characters and dialogue that crackles. The really fun thing about Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is that all the characters are, in some form, bad guys, so watching them get pitted against each other in various ways is a wicked treat. It's an attention-getting film about the utter lack of morality in the criminal underworld.
- 3110 VOTESPhoto: DreamWorks Pictures
In Road to Perdition, Tom Hanks plays Michael Sullivan, the enforcer for Irish mob boss John Rooney (Paul Newman). There's a tight bond between the two men. Rooney even considers Sullivan more of a son than his actual biological son, Connor (Daniel Craig). But Sullivan's world is turned upside down when his own son accidentally witnesses him carrying out a hit. Rooney thinks the kid can be trusted to keep his mouth shut. Connor does not, and sends a hit man to eliminate him. Sullivan and the boy consequently have to go on the run.
Director Sam Mendes and writer David Self take great pains to make the vibe of the Depression era palpable for the audience. It was a desperate time in America's history, and the setting reflects the desperation in Sullivan's dilemma. Cinematography, production design, and costuming all combine to make the period come alive. Road to Perdition also benefits from bringing together Newman and Hanks, two screen icons from different generations. Watching them act together is nothing short of magical.
- 450 VOTESPhoto: Fox Searchlight Pictures
If you're a Tom Hardy fan, The Drop needs to be on your must-see list. He's Bob Saginowski, a bartender whose establishment is utilized by Chechen mobsters as a place to hold money they've gained through illegal activities. After it's robbed, one of the Chechens demands Bob repay the cash that's been stolen. Things get complicated from there.
As always, Hardy gives a fully committed performance that's full of intensity and charisma. He displays good chemistry with co-star Noomi Rapace, who portrays his love interest. There's additionally a great supporting turn from James Gandolfini as the bar's former owner. The Drop got edged out by other movies when it opened in 2014, consequently grossing just $10 million domestically. Three solid leads and a plot with several dramatic twists are guaranteed to keep your eyes glued to the screen.
- 548 VOTESPhoto: 20th Century Fox
Fans of the Coen brothers revere Miller's Crossing, but it never quite caught on with the general public the way Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and No Country for Old Men did. In fact, its domestic box-office gross was less than $5 million. Set during the Prohibition era, the movie is about Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne), the trusted advisor to an Irish mobster. He gets caught up in his boss's war with the Italian mob over the distribution of alcohol, only to find his loyalties tested in ways he could never have imagined.
As with all the Coens' movies, Miller's Crossing presents a highly original, beautifully photographed take on its subject matter. Byrne gives a haunting performance, while John Turturro, Marcia Gay Harden, and Jon Polito do strong supporting work. The use of old-timey slang in the dialogue gives the picture its own flavor. Even if you don't know what "take your flunky and dangle" means, it sounds intense coming out of a character's mouth. Beyond that, the movie does a pretty good job suggesting the intense rivalries that occurred between criminal organizations during Prohibition, a time when bootlegging required the creation of a virtual paramilitary organization to run off competitors.
- 631 VOTESPhoto: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Ben Kingsley gives a fearsome performance in 2000's Sexy Beast. He's Don Logan, a gangster intent on recruiting safecracker Gal Dove (Ray Winstone) for the proverbial One Last Job. The men have a complicated, adversarial past, so Gal isn't necessarily interested in the proposition. He eventually relents, joining the effort to enter a Turkish bath, then drill into the vault of the bank next door. Things do not go well.
The movie's plot is certainly tense, with plenty of moments that set you on edge. Kingsley is the key to making it work, though. Despite his normally mild-mannered persona, the actor lets loose here, giving Don an explosive temper. You'd never think the actor could be so scary. In his hands, one can easily see how Don gets people to do his bidding. Mob movies have rarely had such a terrifying central figure.