Tuesday, November 01, 2011

A Gangster Flick You've Probably Never Seen

So you think you know gangster movies, eh?

I guess we all do — to a certain extent. I mean, who hasn't seen "The Godfather" movies? Or "Bonnie and Clyde," for that matter? Or "Goodfellas" or "Scarface?"

You could include "Pulp Fiction" in that genre, too, I suppose.

But I'm inclined to believe England's Empire Magazine may have been right when it named 1996's "The Funeral" as one of the "20 Greatest Gangster Movies You've Never Seen* (*Probably)."

"The Funeral" made its theatrical debut 15 years ago today. It didn't benefit from the same kind of hoopla that accompanied the premiere of "The Godfather" — maybe because it wasn't based on a novel written by Mario Puzo.

When I watched "The Funeral" for the first time, all I really knew about it was that it was about organized crime — and, with any such movie, you expect a certain amount of violence. It's a given.

So it was prudent of me to approach this movie expecting abundant, even wanton violence.

I'm not a big fan of violence in the arts. I'm more likely to watch such a movie if I am drawn by something else, like a great story or great acting. Violence for violence's sake has never appealed to me.

I honestly don't remember what it was that drew me to "The Funeral," which was the story of three gangster brothers. One (played by Vincent Gallo) had been killed, and the two surviving brothers (Christopher Walken and Chris Penn) tried to come to terms with that each in his own way.

And, in the traditional gangster way, they swore revenge. Nothing groundbreaking about that.

Moviegoers of the time must have been able to put 2 and 2 together and at least anticipate what was in store for them. If they knew the movie was about gangsters and the title referred to a funeral, it stood to reason that there would be violence in the movie.

And I saw it after it had left the theaters. The gangster theme really was no surprise to me.

In a manner that was particularly reminiscent of "The Godfather Part II," much of the brothers' story was told via flashback. Through that, the audience learned how they came to live by violence early.

Nothing groundbreaking about that, either.

In hindsight, I can only guess that reports of the shocking nature — shocking even for a gangster movie — of the climactic scene were what attracted me.

I wasn't necessarily drawn by the acting — although Penn did win best supporting actor at the Venice International Film Festival, and he was nominated for best actor at the Independent Spirit Awards.

Personally, I thought the acting wasn't that great. It was all right, but it wasn't worthy of any awards.

Perhaps the writing had a lot to do with that. There were no memorable lines in the movie, no truly memorable plot twists.

Except at the end.

The ending really was shocking. After I saw it for the first time, I could honestly say, "I didn't see that coming."

Perhaps you have seen it already. The movie has been making the rounds on TV for several years now, but I won't spoil it for you if you have managed to go this long without seeing it.

And, unfortunately, many people still haven't seen it. Fifteen years later, it is still one of the greatest gangster movies you've probably never seen.