Is the "Gangster" genre dead?


I was anxiously awaiting my press invite to catch Ben Affleck's gangster epic "Live By Night." We were in dire need of a good 'Gangster' picture, something that hasn't been the case since 2007's American Gangster or, for some including myself, Michael Mann's underrated 2009 John Dillinger film "Public Enemies." If you're counting foreign films as well, which you should, there hasn't really been a seminal addition to the genre since 2010's "Un Prophete" from Jacques Audiard. I did think Jeremy Saulnier reinvented the genre with his underseen indie film "Blue Ruin," from 2014, but does that really count? It's like saying "Blood Simple" is a gangster film, which "Blue Ruin" bares striking similarities. I also enjoyed John Hillcoat's underseen "Lawless" from 2012, but it didn't give us anything new, fresh or original within the genre.

I'm here to report that the dire streak of Gangster films for Hollywood will continue because, well, Ben Affleck's "Live By Night" is just not good. It follows the familiar tropes of the gangster genre and, in fact, makes them seem boring and rusty. Even the action scenes, which if you've seen Affleck's "The Town," are the director's specialty, fall flat on the ground. What we're left with is a film that is reminiscent of 2012's misbegotten "Gangster Squad." That's not a compliment. Remember that film? That was the nail in the coffin as far as I'm concerned for the genre. Bankable actors and actresses couldn't even make it a box-office success and the reviews, yikes. 

All this brings leads me to an article from The Guardian, published this week, well worth a read and which proclaims that "Live By Night" is "Ben Affleck’s love letter to – and hopefully death knell of – the classic Hollywood gangster flick." Is the gangster genre dead? Time will only tell, but there are signs indicating that it is the end of an era for the genre and that it will have to evolve into something fuller and more relevant to rise back up from the ashes. Last year's superb "Straight Outta Compton" might be a sign of where it's headed and, although I'm stretching the genre a bit here with that example, maybe we should start to qualify some hip-hop movies as part of the "gangster" genre. There are films about Tupac, Biggie and Snoop Dogg forthcoming, all of which will probably deal with their connections to organized crime (Bloods, Crips etc.) Why should those films, just like "Straight Outta Compton," not be considered gangster films?


While were at it, best gangster films of the last decade? Were there any? The 2000's had "City of God," "The Departed," "Road to Perdition," "American Gangster," "A Prophet," "Gangs of New York," "Eastern Promises," "A History of Violence," "Public Enemies." But the 2010s? Nada. Can't find a single worthy addition. I can deal with, the aforementioned, "Lawless" an ultra-violent Prohibition era Gangster flick or, if it counts, last year's superb "Straight Outta Compton" although I'm stretching the genre a bit there.

"Live By Night" comes out in limited release on December 25, 2016, before opening wide on January 13.  

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