The last of a dying breed.
“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” So recalls Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill in one of the greatest movies about gangsters, Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. There’s something more to that line. For Hill, it’s real life, but for those of us watching, it’s a kind of fantasy we find strangely relatable (the American dream and all), or alien (if we’ve never been involved in organized crime) and packed with a lot of crooked romance, even as Hill’s downfall is not so romantic. Nevertheless, the charismatic outlaw has been a major subject of cinema ever since movies were invented, and especially since they started to talk. A character we’re drawn to even if we’re often repelled by such a character’s activity.
They intrigue and sometimes, perhaps scarily so, inspire us. With that in mind, I’m looking at 10 terrific performances by actors (and one actress) who played real-life gangsters on-screen. And these are real life gangsters with exception to Sam “Ace” Rothstein from Casino (so please excuse omissions like The Godfather and the brilliant Scarface: The Shame of a Nation). Be them Mafia-oriented, bank robbers or drug lords, these stars came in with a bang and, more than likely, went out with one, too.