A remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, Martin Scorsese’s The Departed has everything: Mobsters posing as cops, wannabe cops pretending to be gangsters, secret identities, double lives, multiple twisted endings, a true-life centerpiece, Nicholson, and Leonardo DiCaprio. When it opened, Scorsese said it even had a plot, a personal first for him. Mix Matt Damon’s bad cop-turned-worse, Martin Sheen’s secret meetings, Mark Wahlberg’s South Boston accent, and Alec Baldwin’s every snide comeback into the concrete and it dries into a street crime masterpiece. Scorsese throws surprises from every corner.
11. Miller’s Crossing (1990)
Every scene in the Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing is a kill shot, not for any violence, but because the framing leaves an indelible mark on the brain. The film mixes 1930s gangster films with the film noir atmosphere found in Dashiell Hammett novels. Leo O’Bannon (Albert Finney) is an Irish mob boss. Gabriel Byrne’s Tom Reagan is “the man who walks behind the man, and whispers in his ear.” He whispers so many things we don’t really know whose side Tom is on until the very end of the film, and he still leaves us questioning.
O’Bannon’s rival, mob boss Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito) puts it all in perspective when he asks, “If you can’t trust the fix, what can you trust?” Certainly not John Turturro’s bookie character Bernie Bernbaum. He tests loyalties, and with a gang war in the balance, that’s no quick walk in the woods.
10. Kiss of Death (1947)
Directed by Henry Hathaway, Kiss of Death came so close to a true mob portrayal, real-life gangster Joe Gallo got straightened out and made his button. He would go on to inspire the plot to The Godfather, but what he saw on that screen was sadistic, grinning Tommy Udo, played by Richard Widmark in his debut, Oscar-nominated performance.
Victor Mature stars as Nick Bianco, a small-time hustler who botches a robbery and rats out a heavy name. It turns out to be just what the cops need to bring down the major menace to society. For his troubles, Bianco gets out of jail, free, but told not to pass go or expect protection. With a friendly Udo shadowing, a bad fall is around every corner. Tommy pushes an old woman in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs for dawdling. Tattling? Forget about it.
9. Gomorrah (2008)
The Mafia may have seen a decline since cinema shined a light on it, but their Neapolitan counterpart, the Camorra, continues to thrive. Gomorrah is an adaptation of the exposé by Robert Saviano, who went undercover, working as a waiter at mob weddings. Director Matteo Garrone approaches the film like a documentary, but it feels like those handheld cameras are surveillance tools mounted on the undercover writer. There is no glamor in this telling. This is modern life in Naples and Caserta. Five inter-related incidents show organized crime is found in every level of society. Just as it’s always been.