Is 'American Gangster' more moral than 'The Godfather'?

Den_al_lIt always makes me grumble when film critics use a movie they like as a club to beat up on some other movie that’s not necessarily part of the discussion, that’s an innocent bystander. And George Will, who recently pulled this tactic in his syndicated op-ed column, isn’t even a film critic. In order to praise American Gangster (starring Denzel Washington, left), for showing the consequences (in terms of victims and other collateral damage) of druglord Frank Lucas’ reign, Will beats up on a 35-year-old movie, The Godfather (starring Al Pacino, right), which Will claims made crime too glamorous and too consequence-free. Yo, George, what did the Corleones ever do to you?

First of all, it takes a real willful (no pun intended) misreading of The Godfather to suggest that it doesn’t show any violent consequences of the Mob life except for those criminals who chose it. (What about Michael’s car-bombed Sicilian wife, or that poor horse?) But I don’t think the glamorization of crime is what bothers Will the most. (After all, if there weren’t some appeal to the life of a gangster, who would choose to enter it, or to buy a ticket to see it onscreen? Gangster movies have always operated this way, ever since the 1930s, showing the glitzy upside and then the violent downside. Neither American Gangster nor The Godfather strays from this template.)

No, I suspect what really bothers Will is that The Godfather — and every gangster movie that’s followed, including AG — makes a point of likening the way the Mafia consolidates power to the way government and big business do the same. Will seems to resent this analogy, but it’s been evident to, oh, anyone who’s been to the movies in the last 35 years and anyone who’s seen how oligopolies (whether on Wall Street, in Washington, in Hollywood, or wherever else) operate in the real world. Will calls this analogy "facile cynicism about commercial practices and ‘family values,’" to which the only correct response is Michael Corleone’s: "Now who’s being naive?"

I’ll make Will an offer he can’t refuse an offer he shouldn’t ignore an offer: I won’t write about economic policy or baseball if he doesn’t write about pop culture.

addCredit(“American Gangster: David Lee; The Godfather: Everett Collection”)

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  • Ben S

    Let’s not forget that American Gangster is based on a true story whereas the Godfather is a work of fiction. It’s pointless the compare the morality of the two.

    • jay

      Actually godfather is bazed off ofthe real Italian. Mob

  • J

    I have to agree with Ben on this.

  • J

    I have to agree with Ben on this.

  • Anonymous

    Plus American Gangster sucked.

  • ceej

    Or maybe it’s just that certain gangster movies have the bad guys getting his due, whereas others leave portray the bad guys as tragic heroes?

  • K.

    Even funnier, the intro political science course at my university used “The Godfather” part as an example of how to build a government.

  • bdog

    American Gangster wasn’t just the most boring film of the year-it also glorified a murdering drug dealer. The scene near the end, when Denzel is helping Russell put his case together, and he’s all charming and smiling, and Crowe is smiling back, made me sick. I absolutely loathed this movie.

  • steph

    The Godfather is based off of different Mafia families. The Godfather is about how violence begets more violence look at the toll that organized crime took on the Corleone family. Starting with Vito’s mother and brother, then with Sonny, Fredo, and more. There are consequences to the actions taken in this movie.

  • Ben S

    Bdog – The ending with Crowe and Washington smiling at each other reflects the truth. Lucas & Roberts became friends and remain so to this day. Showing them as mortal enimies would be revisionism.

  • Rob Grizzly

    Is it inevitable that every drug-crime-gangster movie will be compared to The Godfather? American Gangster is closer related cinematically to The Departed, Heat, or even Scarface.
    What is going on?

  • Theo

    What Gary Susman failed to point out is that George Will is a massive douchebag.

  • Sally

    It’s inevitable that every crime/gangster movie is going to be compared to another. The difference is that AG is one with a major star playing a drug dealer. Normally major boxo black stars don’t play drug dealers; major meaning $20 Million payroll. And — it is based on a true story. Just go to the internet and search for Frank Lucas or Nicky Barnes and you get hundreds of hits. If you search for Corleone you get fiction.
    As for the film “sucking”, that’s a matter of opinion, but I was engaged and couldn’t leave my seat the whole time. If a movie can keep me in my seat, then I’m happy.

    • jay

      Actually its based off of real mafia hits

  • Sally

    Oh, and I forgot to about AG — the parties are still alive (Frank, Nicky, and Richie) and still feuding. Just go to any documentary and each of them has a different story and boasts about they did this; they didn’t do this; Frank won’t admit to murdering anybody because “there’s no statute of limitations on murder”, but Richie swears he murdered plenty of people; and then there’s Nicky in the witness protection program dissing Frank…it’s kind of hilarious. All these “old” men arguing amongst themselves who was the baddest.

  • RP

    George Will doesn’t write that well either: “Its emulations of “The Godfather” are obviously intended to be obvious.” I’m not the only one who found that sentence to be physically painful, am I?
    If people like George Will are honestly confused as to why people are “cynical” (in this instance means “not fooled”) when it comes to corporations then they ought to check out Consumer Reports or Consumerist. However, I suspect that George isn’t actually that naive. I think he’s just pissed that consumers as a whole know that corporations will do whatever they want to make money, even if it’s unethical, illegal, or immoral.

  • Katy

    Isn’t the whole point of the Godfather trilogy that while Michael does everything to make a better life for him and his family, he winds up losing everything and everyone?

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