Movie Spotlight: British Gangsters Make Tony Soprano and Tony Montana Look Like Schoolyard Bullies

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With Sir Ben Kingsley as Don Logan: scary, crazy, and crazily scary!

I thought Vito Corleone, Tony Montana and Tony Soprano were pretty scary characters…until I “met” the Brit mafiosos Don Logan, Jimmy Price and Harry Waters.

The worst by far are the vicious, casually savage Kray brothers, a real-life team of crime lords who ruled the dark underbelly of London in the swinging sixties, but unfortunately the film based on their story has not yet been made available in digital format. You can see it in 13 installments on YouTube though, and for fans of mafia films or true crime stories it’s worth the viewing. It’s not easy viewing, but it’s pretty darned riveting when you know these guys really existed and really did the things the film portrays.

Even so, the following films are eye-opening enough, when it comes to showing American thugs how it’s really done. Descriptions are from IMDB, comments are from me.

Sexy Beast

Gal, Deedee, Aitch and Jackie, having left behind respective lives of ill-repute, bask in the sun of Spain and in the most essential brand of leisure. A hazy yarn of barbecues, beer and botched hunting expeditions make up their retirements, until a sudden and unforeseen disruption emerges from their past.

Enter the childishly violent and hilariously edgy Don Logan. Through a series of side-splitting negotiations and irrevocable acts, retired crook Gal is forced to shake off the rust and accept one last mission, put forth by the menacing Logan, his ex-mentor.

A heist of legendary proportion and personal implications, this job should make for one hell of an encore.
– Written by gjtackach

My take: This was among the first Brit gangster movies I ever saw, and what a shocker it was! It’s not so much the violence, because heaven knows there’s plenty enough of that in American gangster films, too. It’s the icy coldness of the mob bosses, their particular brand of rage and crazy and their whiplash, mercurial mood changes. They can be downing a pint with a guy who’s apparently a best mate one minute, then crack a full bottle of whiskey over his skull and nonchalantly toss a match on him the next.

If your main impression of Ben Kingsley is from his performance in the title role of Ghandi, you’ll be thoroughly impressed with his acting chops as mob kingpin Don Logan in this.

Now that Daniel Craig is the new James Bond, it’s surprising and interesting to see him portray a mid-level drug dealer who’s unwillingly, haplessly drawn into the more “hands-on” side of the business. He’s a shrewd man who’s surrounded by idiots and double-crossers, and it’s going to take all his wits and a cool head to keep him from drowning in their lethal undertow.


Layer Cake

A successful cocaine dealer who has earned a respected place among England’s Mafia elite, plans an early retirement from the business. However, big boss Jimmy Price hands down a tough assignment: find Charlotte Ryder, the missing rich princess daughter of Jimmy’s old pal Edward, a powerful construction business player and gossip papers socialite.

Complicating matters are two million pounds’ worth of Grade A ecstasy, a brutal neo-Nazi sect and a whole series of double crossings. The title “LAYER CAKE” refers to the layers or levels anyone in business goes through in rising to the top. What is revealed is a modern underworld where the rules have changed. There are no ‘codes’, or ‘families’ and respect lasts as long as a line.

Not knowing who he can trust, he has to use all his ‘savvy’, ‘telling’ and skills which make him one of the best, to escape his own. The ultimate last job, a love interest called Tammy, and an international drug ring threaten to draw him back into the ‘cake mix’.
– Written by Anonymous

My Take: It’s easy to see how this twisty, clever movie inspired countless twisty, clever American crime films. And since most Americans have come to know Daniel Craig as the cool, suave, always-one-step-ahead James Bond, it’s a testament to his talent as an actor that he’s just as believable here as a victim of circumstance and treachery. It’s all he can do to get out alive, forget about dry martinis, amazing gadgets and glamorous luxury cars.

Colin Farrell is pretty good in this movie, but Fiennes as Harry Waters is the real standout performance.


In Bruges

London-based hit men Ray and Ken are told by their boss Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes) to lie low in Bruges, Belgium for up to two weeks following their latest hit, which resulted in the death of an innocent bystander. Harry will be in touch with further instructions. While they wait for Harry’s call, Ken, following Harry’s advice, takes in the sights of the medieval city with great appreciation.

But the charms of Bruges are lost on the simpler Ray (Colin Farrell), who is already despondent over the innocent death, especially as it was his first job. Things change for Ray when he meets Chloe, part of a film crew shooting a movie starring an American dwarf named Jimmy (Peter Dinklage, currently playing Tyrion Lannister in HBO’s Game of Thrones). When Harry’s instructions arrive, Ken, for whom the job is directed, isn’t sure if he can carry out the new job, especially as he has gained a new appreciation of life from his stay in the fairytale Bruges.

While Ken waits for the inevitable arrival into Bruges of an angry Harry, who feels he must clean up matters on his own, Ray is dealing with his own problems, not only with Harry, but with a Canadian couple and a half-blind thief named Eirik. Ray hopes he can count on both Chloe and Ken to help him carve out a new life for himself. In the end, Harry, involved in an incident with Jimmy, may have to keep to his own principles.
– Written by Huggo

My Take: Ralph Fiennes as Harry Waters is the perfect embodiment of the Brit mob boss. He’s not very smart but intensely sensitive about it, and wavers back and forth between childlike and childish. On the one hand he’s sentimental enough to treat hit man Ray to a carefree few days in the beautiful, storybook-village town of Bruges, but on the other he’s instantly enraged when it seems Ray isn’t enjoying himself there.

He seems to feel an almost fatherly compassion toward young Ray, yet that won’t stop him from doing what he feels needs to be done. In fact, he approaches it with the same sense of solemn, regretful duty a father might feel when punishing his son. He’s crazy, moody and monstrous, just as all the “best” British crime lords are.

You’ve never seen Michael Caine portray a character so cold, so calculating, or so violent as he does in this film. It’s beyond ‘rated R’, this is a Not Rated (NR) film.


Get Carter

If you only know this film from the Sly Stallone remake, you don’t know this film.

A vicious London gangster, Jack Carter, travels to Newcastle for his brother’s funeral.

He begins to suspect that his brother’s death was not an accident and sets out to follow a complex trail of lies, deceit, cover-ups and backhanders through Newcastle’s underworld, leading, he hopes, to the man who ordered his brother killed.

Because of his ruthlessness Carter exhibits all the unstoppability of the android in Terminator, or Walker in Point Blank, and he and the other characters in the film are prone to sudden, brutal acts of violence.
– Written by Mark Thompson

My Take: I couldn’t possibly say it any better than Amazon reviewer M. Dog, so I’ll just excerpt from that review here:

This film is a standout example of the way they made action films back in the 70’s: hard, grim, and without an ounce of mercy. To exemplify the difference between a 70’s action film and one made currently, it would do to contrast this film with the 2000 remake with Sylvester Stallone in the title role. In the 2000 film, a touch of pleasant humor and romance are thrown in, and it is clear that Carter (Stallone), despite the fact that he makes his living as an enforcer/gangster, is basically a nice guy; someone it is very important for us to like and identify with. He ends up being the savior of all those he loves and cares for. He is a mush, is what he is. An anti-hero without any true anti.

Michael Caine dominates the original 1971 film Get Carter. He has the coldest eyes you will ever see on screen, and he has a heart made of Birmingham steel. Briefly told, the plot is one of revenge. Carter is a London gangster traveling north to the gritty, working class town of Newcastle to find out what happened to his brother, dead under strange circumstances.

Caine/Carter isn’t really very cunning or smart. What makes him so dangerous is that he acts very quickly, almost instinctively like a huge cat on the hunt. A burning red engine, stoked to bursting with hate, drives Carter and keeps him alive in this world of wolves and sheep. No actor can portray pure hatred like Michael Caine, and the teeth-barring moments when Jack Carter is moved to violence are truly scary. Once Carter begins to unravel the truth, he becomes a force without pity. Where Stallone can’t help but wish to be liked, Caine is about as repulsive a protagonist as the screen has yet shown us. If we find ourselves rooting for him (and we do), it is because the movie has tapped into our own dark side. Nothing “life affirming” here. His vengeance is not done with splashy special effects or done artfully like Peckinpah’s mannered “ballet of death” scenes. No, here the punishment is metered out like grim factory work, done under an ashy, wet sky.

This film is a vision into a mist-soaked hell, where rain falls instead of fire, absent of angels. It is also a masterpiece and not to be missed. -Mykal Banta


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