Like a Boss: the Best Performances by Actors Portraying Real Life Mob Chiefs

Image Credit: Reverseshot.com
Filmland has been full of fictional mob bosses heavily inspired by their real life counterparts, back to the days of the original 1932 Scarface film, and its ersatz Al Capone character “Tony Camonte.” In later years, gaining some space from the actual lives and events has allowed Hollywood to straight-on portray America’s legendary barons of crime many times over, real names and all. Even as the quite schlocky looking “Gangster Squad” barrels towards theaters this month with Sean Penn croaking out “sociopathic mobster 101” dialogue as L.A.’s infamous Mickey Cohen, the question begs answering: Which actors have done their real life hoodlums the proudest? It breaks down like this:
Like a Boss: the Best Performances by Actors Portraying Real Life Mob Chiefs
Image Credit: Reverseshot.com
Filmland has been full of fictional mob bosses heavily inspired by their real life counterparts, back to the days of the original 1932 Scarface film, and its ersatz Al Capone character “Tony Camonte.” In later years, gaining some space from the actual lives and events has allowed Hollywood to straight-on portray America’s legendary barons of crime many times over, real names and all. Even as the quite schlocky looking “Gangster Squad” barrels towards theaters this month with Sean Penn croaking out “sociopathic mobster 101” dialogue as L.A.’s infamous Mickey Cohen, the question begs answering: Which actors have done their real life hoodlums the proudest? It breaks down like this:
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Honorable Mention

Ray Stevenson as Danny Greene in Kill The Irishman (2011)
As the articulate, athletic Cleveland union honcho who defied the Mafia and set off a car bomb–heavy gang war in the 1970s, Stevenson shapes what ultimately amounts to a more admirable man than most gang lords.


Laurence Fishburne as Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson, The Cotton Club (1984) and Hoodlum (1997)
As the black crime boss who ran Harlem between lengthy prison stays from the Jazz Age to his death in 1968, Fishburne projects Bumpy’s intelligence and steely pride in not one, but two performances, in two films focusing on Dutch Schultz’s 1930s encroachment into the neighborhood.



Ben Kingsley as Meyer Lansky, Bugsy (1991)
The shrewd and ever-wise Lansky (the inspiration for Hyman Roth of The Godfather mythos), who managed to die as an extremely wealthy elderly man in the 1980s without having spent hardly a day in jail, is done justice here, portrayed as a very concerned friend to erratic boyhood chum Siegel.



Rod Steiger as Al Capone, Al Capone (1959)
Looking more like the real deal than probably any other actor to portray him , with his chubby cheeks and pouty lips, Steiger paints an indelible portrait of slob-on-the-rise Capone, in a fairly accurate minor gem that came on the heels of TV’s Untouchables.



Denzel Washington as Frank Lucas, American Gangster (2007) Despite the real Lucas being pretty much everything Washington’s portrayal was not (loud, ignorant, flashy, not quite handsome), Denzel’s unforgettably dignified portrait of criminal ambition in 1970s Harlem is one for the ages.



Anthony La Paglia as Frank Nitti, Nitti: The Enforcer (1988)
This film and Italian-Australian actor LaPaglia who captures Nitti’s calm, quiet reserve, get credit for setting the record straight about Nitti, after 1987’s The Untouchables painted him as a slippery hitman who was tossed off a building by Eliot Ness. In truth, Nitti took over after Capone’s incarceration, and the only person he most likely personally killed was himself.



Moral of the story: Crime does pay, in great performances. And also, you should probably watch Bugsy.


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