5. What Doesn’t Kill You (2008)
You like Irish mob films like “The Departed” or “State of Grace”? Cool, then here is another one. No, it’s not exactly on the level of those, but this overlooked gem is still worth watching. Some of it may feel familiar, no doubt about that, but the lead performers are strong and the movie has such a natural feeling that you just go with it, and through the film, the dramatic effect grows stronger. It tells a good story and it tells it well.
The film is based on director Brian Goodman’s own life. He describes it as such: “I think 85 percent of us have a story in their life that can maybe be a film, but I didn’t match the dates and time because all I wanted to do was show a message about a guy who wants to be a father, didn’t really know how, wanted to stop crime, knew nothing else, wanted to turn himself around after getting out of prison.”
The film follows childhood friends Paulie and Brian and they join a local gang of criminals, but life-changing events lead Brian to go straight, which causes a strain in their personal lives and their friendship. Apart from an impressive narrative and great performances, the movie should also be noted for the right use of music which brings some gravitas. It’s not a game-changer, but something that could please fans of the genre.
4. The Krays (1990)
It doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve seen “Legend,” or if you liked it. No matter what you thought of that film, give “The Krays” a shot. Like “Legend,” “The Krays” also follows identical twins Ronald “Ronnie” Kray and Reginald “Reggie” Kray who terrorized London during the 1950s and 1960s. Unlike “Legend,” “The Krays’ received much warmer reception by critics, but unfortunately, nobody seems to remember it these days.
The brothers are played by Gary and Martin Kemp and it works out well; there’s one scene, a boxing scene that wouldn’t work out as well if the actors weren’t siblings. Both actors do a great job while the film focuses more on their childhood and their switch to adult life. Wish we could see how they built their empire, but that’s okay; the film prefers to focus on the characters rather than the story.
Roger Ebert was a fan of the film and said, “The film works so well, I think, because it creates such a disturbing tension between the evil done by the Krays and the love they basked in at home.” The way in which the brothers are devoted to their mothers is portrayed so impressively, and yet the violent sequences in the second and third acts end up being disturbing. It may be one of those movies that would actually benefit from straightforward storytelling but that’s okay. “The Krays” is still an impressive, compelling, and striking crime drama about two of the most important, and most famous, crime figures of London history.
3. The Business (2005)
You know that the famous Greek tragedy-like rise-and-fall stories that are very common among gangster films. We have often seen them, but we’re still fascinated whenever we get stories like that; how criminal life is finally rewarded with punishment and how greed ruins their life. Some films like “Scarface” are popular everywhere and some others are promoted like that, especially in the international market so that people would buy them at their local store. This movie is no “Scarface,” but still so entertaining.
“The Business” is about Frankie, who now wants to disappear from London as soon as possible since he killed his stepfather in anger. Then he meets with Charlie, who, along with his brutal partner Sammy, has built a flourishing business with prostitution, drug trafficking, and money laundering on the Costa del Sol. Charlie takes Frankie under his wing and teaches him all the secrets of the “business,” Little by little, the initially timid boy from London turns into a greedy crook who turns more and more against his former mentor Charlie.
You know the plot so you know what to expect, but why is “The Business” special? Because it’s a film that does not take itself too seriously and that’s how it manages to bring welcome humor to the story. The acting is great, the narrative is compelling, and the sequences are memorable. Also worth noting is a great soundtrack that features everyone from David Bowie to Blondie.
2. Fingers (1978)
This is especially for the ones that enjoy Scorsese-like crime dramas. Jimmy (Harvey Keitel) is a talented piano player who dreams of a music career. An audition at the famous Carnegie Hall is seemingly the most important event of his life – day and night he practices for it. But there’s something else in Jimmy’s life besides music, something where he makes far less: his father is a well-known and influential gangster who would love to see his son as his successor. And as if that were not enough, he also gets involved with a girl who brings him into the acquaintance of shady crooks and pimps.
One of the lovely surprises of “The Irishman” was to see Keitel back in a Scorsese film. Wish he’d have a bigger role, but it’s still a welcome surprise from a man who has had an incredible career. “Fingers” is one of his best performances, and the pizzeria and restaurant scenes are some of his career highlights. It can very well be his second best performance right behind “Bad Lieutenant.” Jimmy is a very complex character and he gives his all. The movie itself is also a powerful work in general. Even though it’s not discussed much these days, it obviously made an influence, which is evident in some of the most acclaimed films of the recent times like “Uncut Gems.”
1. The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)
This realistic, gritty, memorable, and remarkable film was based on the 1970 debut novel of George V. Higgins, then an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Boston. The movie is a realistic depiction of the Irish-American underworld in Boston. Elmore Leonard even said of the book that it was the best crime novel ever written. The film adaptation is equally excellent with a brilliant performance by Robert Mitchum in the central role.
Eddie Coyle, or as how he’s called “Eddie Fingers,” is an aging delivery truck driver for a bakery. Since he is also a low-level gunrunner for the mob, he is facing several years in prison for a truck hijacking set up by local bar owner Dillon. Coyle’s last chance is securing a sentencing recommendation through the help of agent Dave Foley, who demands that Coyle become an informer in return. Despite receiving a strong critical acclaim, it was still the era of when Friedkin was changing the thriller genre with “The French Connection,” and Coppola’s much more ambitious “The Godfather” was still on everybody’s minds.
However, director Peter Yates said at the time that he was trying to make something as un-Hollywood and different as possible. So with its more downbeat and depressing approach, “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” didn’t receive strong box office returns, and despite becoming a beloved film in some cinephile circles and with crime fans through the years, the movie still remains to be seen by more people.