The Ultimate Gangster Class A Selection DVD review

Some classy gangster movies, but do the haphazardly bundled extras reveal a cynical xmas cash-in...?

Say hello to my little friend. Again.

Hmm, can anyone smell a Christmas cash-in? A DVD box set giving itself the ‘ultimate gangster’ label, and not a sniff of Goodfellas or a Godfather movie? What we’re offered is Scarface, Mean Streets, Casino, American Gangster, Carlito’s Way and a whole bunch of extras spread across ten discs.

Of course, those clever marketing bods at Universal have seen through my complaint and chosen their words carefully to head off my major gripe at the first attempt. See, this isn’t the ultimate gangster collection, it’s the ultimate gangster selection, which is why it includes four movies from the Universal stable, studiously avoiding anything beginning with a ‘g’.

The ‘ultimate’ nature of the selection aside, you can’t argue with the quality of the features on offer here. Ridley Scott’s American Gangster is an enjoyable romp that only occasionally staggers under the weight of its own perceived epicness, and the other four are bona fide classics. So if you’ve been hiding under a rock and Bugsy Malone is the closest you’ve ever got to a gangster movie, this serves as an excellent primer for some of the best drug dealing ever committed to film.

On the other hand, if you’re familiar with most of the Pacino/De Niro/Keitel action on these discs, is there enough in the bonus material to warrant a purchase?

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For starters, the bonus features are oddly imbalanced – for American Gangster, there are two discs of bonus features and a 32-page booklet, which is more than enough for even the most hardcore Russell Crowe aficionado. Likewise, for Scarface, there are two discs of reverential talking heads to plough through. Elsewhere, there’s one disc dedicated to Casino, yet nothing at all for Carlito’s Way or Mean Streets.

For the most part, the bonus features are made up of the kind of ‘making of’ mini-programmes that make up the staple mid-afternoon schedule for E! or some low-rent Freeview channel. In the Scarface material particularly, it really shows that every last making-of, featurette or TV spot have been thrown into the mix without a thought as to the overall picture. There’s loads of repetition – clips like Tony Montana’s ‘all I have is my balls and my word’ speech come up at least three times – and not much to be gained from wading through the material unless you’re pretty obsessed with the film.

The only bonus material that could accurately be described as ‘ultimate’ is that supplied for American Gangster. There are deleted scenes, music videos, and featurettes covering everything from costumes and crowd scenes to screen tests and behind the scenes. What really shines, though, are the features covering the true story behind the movie, which, despite the usual lame talking heads format, are interesting and, critically, add to your enjoyment of the main feature far more than any fifteen-minute encomium to Ridley Scott’s directorial prowess.

The set as a whole, then, suffers from failing to find its place in either niche. It’s not comprehensive enough to make it an essential purchase for the gangster completist, and yet much of the bonus material will only be of limited interest to the non-hardcore fan, so it’s difficult to see where its audience lies. But if you don’t happen to have seen more than one or two of the outstanding main features, then crack it open and see what you’ve been missing out on. ‘Mook’ will be a mainstay of your vocabulary before the week’s out.


5 stars
3 stars

23 December 2008

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5 out of 5