Those words in the headline were uttered by Frank Costello (portrayed by Jack Nicholson) in The Departed. The full quote rang as a remembrance of his childhood when the adults would tell them you could become a cop or a criminal. He asked his young protege Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) the question following what he said adults used to tell him.
If you listened to my most recent podcast, I talked about a massive painting I bought depicting some of the films finest gangsters. It has legendary alphas such as Vito Corleone, Michael Corleone, Tony Montana and Tommy DeVito.
I talked about the correlation between mobsters and politicians. I don’t believe life is black and white. I believe in shades of gray.
These mobsters paint the “American Dream” we hear about to a tee. The American Dream is money, power and greed. In order to achieve it, you may have to use underhanded and illegal tactics to get where you want to be sometimes. I believe far more happens behind closed doors in every industry, especially the political realm, than we will ever see.
That being said, based on public reaction to most things, we shouldn’t know some of those things. It could do more harm than good if we did. Much like the public doesn’t know in those movies. But we do. We see things from the other side of the curtain. We see the story told from the perspective of the law breakers. These guys are able to wear so many hats which is why they always seem to be two steps ahead of everyone including those trying to put them away.
As Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) said in The Usual Suspects, “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
The Departed is the first mob movie I can remember watching and just being in complete awe of.
Despite that movie coming out in 2006, I didn’t watch it until 2009-2010 when I was in college. I immediately fell in love with it. It still holds a high place on my favorite movies. From the one liners to the amazing cast to the complete shock and awe ending, what a brilliant film by Martin Scorsese. I would expect nothing less though.
From there, the boner for mob movies grew ten fold. I still have plenty of mob movies I have not seen, but the genre is my favorite by far.
My mom had called me out on Facebook recently because I didn’t watch The Godfather trilogy until about 2-3 years ago. For every mob movie fan, that is blasphemous.
Part I and II both now rank among my top 10 movies of all time. The first installment takes the cake at number one. I could watch it over and over again.
The big draw for me is that painted picture of the American Dream and how these guys rise to the top to get there. They are bad men walking. Some are dead men walking. These are smooth talkers and smooth walkers. They know how to move pawns in the game to get what they want.
Some are tactical like Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando & Robert De Niro) in The Godfather.
“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
That is one of the most symbolic lines across not just mob movies, but all movies. It implores the idea that you outsmart your enemies. You use brains over brute when you can.
Some are violent and hot headed like Tony Montana (Al Pacino) in Scarface.
“You all a bunch of fuckin’ assholes. You know why? You don’t have the guts to be what you wanna be? You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your fuckin’ fingers and say, “That’s the bad guy.” So… what that make you? Good? You’re not good. You just know how to hide, how to lie. Me, I don’t have that problem. Me, I always tell the truth. Even when I lie. So say good night to the bad guy! Come on. The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again, let me tell you. Come on. Make way for the bad guy. There’s a bad guy comin’ through! Better get outta his way!”
After a heated argument with his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) at dinner, he drops that bomb of a monologue in the restaurant. As the movie unfolds, Montana just becomes more angry and hostile going so far as killing his best friend once he found out he was getting with his sister.
Some are direct like Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) in Gangster Squad.
“You heard of Manifest Destiny? That’s when you take what you can when you can. The greasers took it from the Redskins and we took it from them. And I’m gonna take it all from you, Jack, and not just because I can. But because this is my destiny. Los Angeles is my fucking destiny, you mother fucker.”
Some are weasels like Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) in Goodfellas.
“I’m not mad. I’m proud of you. Your took your first pinch like a man you learn two great things in your life. Look at me. Never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut.”
Although the words were said by his friend Jimmy Conway, it is blatantly ironic because Hill is arguably the biggest weasel in the mob movie world.
There are so many big personalities with so many different traits. But in the movies, it all usually ends the same way for most: prison, witness protection or death.
No Hotard Huddle blog would be complete without some sort of ranking so here it goes. Consider this my mob movie awards.
Favorite Movie: The Godfather
Favorite Character: Sonny Corleone – The Godfather
Favorite Quote: “Now go home and get your fucking shine box.” – Billy Batts – Goodfellas
Favorite Family: Corleone (The Godfather Trilogy)
Biggest Bad Ass: Luca Brasi (The Godfather)
Most Savage Moment: Lucas Blasts Tango (American Gangster)
Underrated Movie: Gangster Squad
Movie I Still Need To See: The Public Enemy (1931)
Favorite Real Life Portrayal: Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) – American Gangster
Favorite Hit or Whack: Tony Montana Death – Scarface
Funniest Line: “Leave the Gun. Take the Cannolli.” – The Godfather