Since the release of Lawless, which was lacking some intangible quality, i have been considering the state of the Mafia Film. It has in my mind been a long time since a truly epic Mafia films has been released. It appears, like all good film trends, that the Mafia flick has had its golden age and has been relegated to the occasional film being released every few years. Unfortunately, these films often leave a lot to be desired.
So why is it that the Mafia films that have come out of late do not hold a candle to the glory of their forerunners? And before you say "Alexandre you clearly have no idea what you're talking about, what about Road to Perdition and American Gangster?", I have to remind you, and myself, that road to perdition came out in 2002, a full decade ago, and as for American Gangster, well it says it in the title, it's a Gangster film not a Mafia film.
So with all that in mind here are the five main reasons i consider to be the culprit of the the fall of fedora wearing, Tommy gun blasting mafiosas to hit the silver screen.
1. Trying to Re-invent the wheel
Tell me if this sounds familiar:
Poor boy joins the family with the help of a friend
They rapidly prove their worth and raise in the ranks
They rapidly gain wealth and lose sight of their goals
Final major fight in which they lose everything
Mafia films tend to follow a similar plot line, one that has been tried and tested, and now its getting quite old. Certainly a few break slightly from the mould but these rarely show much imagination, nor do they capture their audience like the Godfather did.
Much of this can be put down to directors complying with film regulations (which forbid the glorification of crime, thus usually resulting in an untimely, but predictable demise for the main characters).
In the end it comes down to directors being afraid to cut away from the mould like the Godfather did, a film that actually changed the way gangsters acted.
2. The Rise of British Crime
British crime movies have rapidly gained ground in the past decade with films from Guy Richie setting the standard.
These films, in typical British fashion, tend to be more light hearted than their Mafia cousins from across the pond. A combination of action, wit, satire and good old criminal violence has these films appealing to a "larger" target audience, making them more profitable, alongside the fact that its a lot easier to film on set as they are set in the modern day. This fast paced action and modern setting are considered appeal more to the youth today, who want more action and less concentration.
Lengthy conversations in Italian and heavy subtitles are no longer considered to tie into to the "short attention span of today's youth".
3. Rise of the Super Heros
With films like the Dark Knight Trilogy, the Avengers and its fore runners, it is clear to see that superheroes are currently in. The superhero genre is now enjoying the golden age that Mafia films saw not too many decades ago.
With amazing stunts and special effects, combined with the family friendly element as well as the no death ultra-violence the movie industry use to keep people entertained whilst keeping ratings low make Mafia films hard pressed to offer anywhere near as much.
With substantially bigger budgets Super Hero films are able to explore avenues that are permanently shut off from Mafia flicks, and with a limitless number of comics and cartoons to draw from they are able to continually create fresh and original plot lines.
A sad truth of the film business is that they have to make money. Once a genre stops being profitable it is almost immediately relegated to the side lines of B and C list movies.
The fact of the matter is that there isn't as much interest in Mafia films as there used to be and as such there isn't as much money, resulting in lower budget films that are even less able to contend with other genres in a vicious circle.
The one thing that Marx definitely did get right, is that money does make the world go round.
5. Quantity leads to Quality
Whilst this is not always the case (see virtually any sequel) it is a simple fact of numbers. The more films you make the greater the chance that one of them will be amazing.
As mentioned above Mafia films no longer generate the income necessary to warrant a large number of them being produced, and as such there is less chance of a good director being brought in. A sad truth.
You've got to go through a few Prizzi's Honors before you get a Goodfellas.