Gangsters as Tragic Heroes

I love gangster movies. From The Godfather to Goodfellas, to Scarface(1983) to Carlito’s Way, The Untouchables, Pulp Fiction, Casino…the list goes on. I have not seen them all, but might like to. However, Robert Warshaw never saw ANY of these movies. Likewise, I’m not really sure how many movies that involved gangsters that both he and I saw…in fact between him and myself we’ve only seen probably a handful of the same films.

Either way, the gangster I’ve grown to look up to may be similar to his idea from reading his article “The Gangster as a Tragic Hero.” A gangster must always be aware of his surroundings. Why? Because with every gangster lies an inescapable truth. His success means the failure of others around, including and especially his friends. Betrayal is also a major motif of gangster pictures. As Don Corleone said in The Godfather Part II “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”

However I do disagree with other points. I see the gangster in the movies as I watch as a man who will do anything to get what he wants, a man totally inclined by Machiavellian ideals. I also feel that the gangster represents what we all secretly (or not) want to be like. I think Warshow would agree with me on this.

There are so many good gangster films that when a new one comes out, it has so live up to past ones. In recent years, The Departed and The Town were great gangster films. Although they do veer away from the usual formula, the characters in these stories, particularly DiCaprio’s portrayal of William Costigan was a man ‘pretending to be a gangster.’ He hated it so much he couldn’t stand his job and even became physically sick often in the story. I think it added a whole new dimension to the genre and partly this lead to its commercial and critical success.

Prospectively, the gangster remains Hollywood’s perhaps most beloved and quintessential tragic hero…

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One Response to “Gangsters as Tragic Heroes”

  1. Amy Herzog Says:

    What a fantastic start to the semester!!! I’m really impressed with your detailed engagement with Warshow’s reading. I’m curious, though– it seems like so many of your points here are in agreement with his argument. What points would you take issue with? This can open into a really interesting discussion.

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