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#021. The Mafia

Protagonists take many shapes and sizes. Some are the strong, silent type who know what to do and are good at what they do. Some are the archetypal hero, who stands for honor and justice. And then there are the anti-heroes. This last category would be the bad guy in any other film with one of the protagonist types as the main character. After all, good must triumph over evil in the end, right? And yet, sometimes you just have to root for the lesser of two evils. The Mafia is one of those anti-hero protagonists. In a police drama, the mob usually plays the antagonist, but if the movie is about the mob, the roles are reversed. While people typically want the police to win, there is a small piece of them that likes the idea of the mafia. If you can become powerful enough to do whatever you want, isn’t that in essence, freedom? Freedom from rules. Freedom to create the rules. Still, even though freedom may seem glamorous, it usually comes at a severe price. This week’s two films highlight the anti-hero of the mafia.

The Godfather
Year: 1972
Rating: R
Length: 175 minutes / 2.92 hours

While arguably the best mafia movie ever made, The Godfather (1972) is considered by many to be the best movie ever made, period. The story is timeless, the acting is superb, and the violence is gritty and real. When most people think of what happens in the mafia, I am sure that they think of what happens in The Godfather. Turf wars, over-the-top messages, multiple murders . . . it’s got it all. What’s a little interesting is that about half-way through the film, the plot takes a bit of a turn and almost feels like a plot you’d find in a video game. Of course, the most interesting part of this movie is watching the evolution of an archetypal hero into a classic anti-hero.

Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) has just returned home from war. Any ordinary soldier would welcome the homecoming compared to the violence of the battlefield. Unfortunately, Michael’s father, Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is the head of a New York mafia family. Unfortunately, Don Vito is not well liked by the other mafia families because of his ideals. Unfortunately, even if Michael doesn’t want anything to do with the mafia, the other families will do what they can to get to Don Vito. Eventually, Michael has had enough. With his father no longer able to run things, he steps up and does what has to be done to maintain some semblance of order in a world full of crime.

Year: 1990
Rating: R
Length: 146 minutes / 2.43 hours

A somewhat unfortunate side-effect of the mafia is the glamorous lifestyle that it seems to promote. Children in poverty look at these rich men in fancy suits and shiny cars and can only hope that someday they can do whatever they want to do. Once again, the promises of freedom, of no restrictions, and of a life-long loyalty are highly enticing to those who have none of those things. But, once again, this life of glamour comes at a price. To get there legitimately, it could take your whole life to arrive at the top. To get there quickly, it could cost you your soul. Choices have consequences, and sometimes those consequences aren’t apparent until it’s too late.

“As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a gangster.” This opening narration by Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) just goes to show how children can idolize the mob. Of course, once you’re in, you’re in. When Henry teams up with Jimmy Conway (Robert DeNiro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), he has his “in” to the world of the mafia. However, the trick with the mob is that you can’t just be “in” the mafia without wanting to climb the ladder a little bit. But since Henry is just happy to be a gangster, he soon finds himself pulled into more and more serious situations by his two partners in crime (literally). Another unfortunate side-effect of the mob is that once you are “in,” it’s hard to get out.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 offers you can’t refuse

23 responses to “#021. The Mafia

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