Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Mobsters of 2010

For the most part, I am terribly weary of watching mob movies. I loved the Godfather films (all three) and The Wire is just fantastic, but why should I bother seeing more? Sure, I heard Sopranos was excellent, but that's a lot of Italian mafia to swallow. I saw enough of Scarface to never bother seeing the rest of it. Senseless violence, destructive personalities, assassinations, corrupt cops... it's all the same and if I want to see a half-truth, why should I see such a negative one, filled with evil people "trying" to be good or whatever?

Animal Kingdom (2010)

"Just another day of killing with the family."

See, this is what I'm talking about. Josh's mother dies and he moves in with his grandmother who's boys are all hard core criminals. Josh's narration at the beginning talks about how they all know that they are right on the edge of losing everything. So, we know how the movie's going to pan out, don't we? Pope is one of the more selfishly evil characters I've seen, and frankly, everyone else is only marginally better. No stand out performances, just a lot of senseless killing. There's a lot I might forgive of the film, but almost every character is just stupid.

However, I do think it has the best use of Air Supply of any movie. 2/5

The Prophet (2009)

"It's a lonely business, being the head of a crime syndicate."

But this French film, filled with Corsican and Arabic, reminds me of why I still occasionally watch mob films.

It is smart and mystical and powerful and sad. It is as starkly realistic and as intense as a season of The Wire (although without the award-winning dialogue).

It follows Malik into prison, his home for six years, as he is faced with a Hobson's choice from a Corsican mobster who runs the prison: kill a man or I will kill you. It could be see as a paint by the numbers rags-to-riches criminal story, but Malik remains so boyish, and his friend Ryad is so real and the ghost of his first kill haunts the screen. There is a lot in this movie, and it is worth watching.

(For those who haven't seen the film, skip this next paragraph.) One of the most fascinating aspects of the film is the mystic side of it. Malik is visited regularly by the ghost of his first kill, Reyeb, who is a criminal who will testify against his boss. I think that the development of Reyeb is fascinating, especially after he dies. He is a hash dealer who wants to trade sexual favors for drugs. After he died, he hangs around Malik, with little animosity. By the end of the film, he is giving Makik visions and encouraging him to worship God. So the ghost of Reyeb seems to be pulling Malik one direction, but his criminal reality is leading him, without pause, toward evil. This is a fascinating way to create moral tension, one which I've never seen in a mob movie before. Religion plays a role in Malik's life, but by the end of the film, he seeks out Reyeb, but Reyeb cannot be found.

Yes, it has a lot of violence, much of it seemingly senseless. But this movie is so well acted and conceived and is just original enough that it is worth whatever discomfort it might give you. 4/5

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