Ben Affleck is returning to the golden age of gangster films with his latest film Live By Night, which tells the story of Joe Coughlin, who after returning disillusioned from the Great War finds himself on the road to being an outlaw, bootlegger, and ruthless gangster.
Affleck has been clear that he wanted to capture the essence of the classic early gangster films of the 1920s and 1930s, and to celebrate the film’s release we’ve collated a list of five classic gangster movies that you have to see before you watch Live By Night.
It all began here. Mervyn LeRoy’s 1931 gangster epic which showcased the rise to power of Edward G. Robinson’s Caesar Enrico “Rico” Bandello. This immense tale of power, lust and greed still holds up today, and set the scene for the structure and pacing that would define the gangster genre. Little Caesar was also of particular influence to Martin Scorsese.
The Roaring Twenties
Regarded as the last great gangster film of the late 1930s before the arrival of film noir, The Roaring Twenties shares many similarities with Live By Night, including a character who was a war veteran turned gangster. It starred James Cagney, who was famously known for his violently driven characters, as well as a young Humphrey Bogart. The Roaring Twenties is big, lavish and tragic, everything that is essential to the gangster genre.
Regarded as the greatest gangster film of all time, The Godfather is still as visceral and dramatic as it was back in 1972. Francis Ford Coppola charted the journey of two generations of the Mafioso Corleone family, father Vito (Marlon Brandon) and the prodigal son Michael (Al Pacino), who would rise to become the don of dons. The Godfather is a grand achievement in the gangster genre, filled with violence, treachery and dramatic tension, and cinema simply doesn’t get any better.
Although Al Pacino first cast his sinister gaze over the crime underworld in The Godfather, it was his performance as crazed Cuban psychotic Tony Montana in Briana De Palma’s 1983 remake of Scarface that really made an impression on audiences. Again, this was a film that showcased the rise of a gangster, until it all comes crashing down in a hail of bullets. Judging from the trailer for Live By Night, it appears that Affleck has taken a cue from Scarface’s climatic scene, with plenty of epic gun battles and larger than life characters.
King of New York
Every genre has its wild card entry, and in the world of gangster films it definitely has to be Abel Ferrara’s 1990 crime opus King Of New York. Christopher Walken plays drug lord Frank White, who decides to reinvent himself as a Robin Hood figure, and sets out to use his drug profits to better the lives of the poor and eventually run for mayor. The film was notorious upon release, and Walken’s White was definitely not shy in using his gun or charisma to see his will obeyed.