In a 58 year career, Martin Scorsese has only made five gangster movies, and yet he has become synonymous with the genre. Then again, when those five films include cinematic classics such as Goodfellas and Mean Streets you can understand why.
Scorsese is a master at simultaneously capturing the allure and danger of a life of crime, neither glorifying it, nor condemning it; rather just presenting it as he believes the character would experience it. Every detail from the handshakes to ‘slicing the garlic with a razor blade’ creates an authenticity that is second to none and helps transport the audience straight into the protagonists’ (or antagonists’!) point of view.
It is this authenticity, and level of honest detail that set his films apart from others in the genre. Helped by his upbringing in Italian-American New York neighbourhoods, and his own personal experiences, Scorsese's gangster films always feel like an insight rather than fiction. Almost as though he is our David Attenborough to the criminal underworld.
With The Irishman set to be released next year, and with him once again teaming up with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, what better time for a nostalgic look back at his contribution to the gangster movie (so far).
5. Gangs Of New York (2002)
This breathtaking epic of 19th century New York and the gangs that controlled it is anything but subtle. At times hammy, and with sets that wouldn’t look out of place at a Broadway musical, Gangs of New York still manages to be quintessential Scorsese.
A feeling of impending violence lurking around every corner, psychotic gang leaders (none more memorable than Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill the butcher), and the blurring of lines between good guys and bad guys; this was everything we’d come to expect from the master of the genre.
Gangs of New York also marked the first of five collaborations between Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio in what has become a pairing to rival that of his and Robert De Niro’s for consistency in quality.
In a rarity for Scorsese, the pacing is a little off in the second half, making it feel slightly too long. Nonetheless this is still one of his best films, even if it's not one of his best gangster films. More of a testament to the quality of the others on this list than anything!