The Chicago Syndicate: Mob Movie Lessons
The Mission Impossible Backpack

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Mob Movie Lessons

Ever been to the circus? Ever see a whole pile of clowns get inside a tiny little Volkswagen? Well, Hollywood is kind of like that, except that those clowns don't have red noses; they have cameras and no clue.

I get all sorts of e-mails from you guys asking me about Goodfellas and The Godfather. One guy says, "I love the part when Pesci shoots Spider in the foot over a drink," and then I don't even have to read what comes next. The guy writes: "Does that kind of stuff really happen, man?"

Of course, the guy hopes that I will respond as follows: "Oh yeah! We have guys shooting each other in the foot all the time. I once stabbed a guy for breaking wind at the dinner table. Boy, if I had a nickel for every time I..."

Come on guys, get serious. We don't shoot each other every few hours. We want to apply pressure to our customers, not gunshot wounds. I got news for you: These mob movies are entertaining and cinematically satisfying, kind of like a good cigar, but there are a few flaws in the logic, capisce? As much as the Hollywood babbos get wrong, though, here's a few of the things they got right.

Whack the boss and you’ll get whacked

In Goodfellas, Pesci kills a made guy and later gets killed for his insubordination.

That's right: Bosses bite back. Tommy whacks Batts, Tommy gets whacked. Gross insubordination rarely goes unpunished. I don't care what organization you're in; if you take out a top guy without it being sanctioned by the management, expect retribution. We love guys who break the rules, as long as it happened 30 years ago. As for those in the present who disrespect the status quo, just read a newspaper: The world hates them.

Keep a low profile

In The Untouchables, Capone thinks he has the world on a string, and Costner snips his fantasy.

You can't fight City Hall. Capone tried to run Chicago, and he almost did. But there's always a Dudley Do-Right growing up somewhere, some little bugger who had too much baseball and apple pie. I'm talking about Eliot Ness. Guys like him restore the world to a plausible degree of corruption. This happened in New York not that long ago, with guys like Rudy Giuliani taking down the Gotti boys. If you're a wiseguy, you have to stay under the radar and not attract the attention of chattering newsmen. The world appreciates a certain amount of underground; problems only arise when the underground starts peeking into the daylight. Unless the thugs expect a revolution, they need to check their ambition and be content to rule quietly.

Always be skeptical

Pacino backs out of a billion-dollar deal because it doesn't smell right.

Talk is cheap. Remember The Godfather? Sure you do -- your e-mails are testimony to that. When Michael Corleone goes to Cuba, he's about to enter a billion-dollar deal with a bunch of glad-handers who say, " Havana is it, baby, we're gonna be filthy rich." Michael is skeptical, and they say, "Hey, don't worry, it's all worked out. Have a drink!". A day later, the government falls to a young man named Castro. The lesson here? Get the information. Don't get sweet-talked without seeing every angle. Do your homework and don't let a room full of clever suits outweigh common sense.

You have no friends

In Miller's Crossing, Gabriel Byrne says very coldly to a friend, "Friendship's got nothing to do with it."

And he's right. In many adult situations, decisions have to transcend friendship; otherwise, you get bogged down in mediocrity. Good organizations rely less on friendship than on impartial rules of order. When the time comes for a promotion, there's a good chance you'll be pitted against a friend, and as you step on his head to climb the ladder, remember to say, "Sorry, pal, it's nothin' personal."

You can’t be Mr. Nice Guy

In Casino, De Niro compares two muffins, one with a lot of blueberries and one with very few. He calls the cook onto the carpet and says, "I want the same number of blueberries in every muffin." The cook argues, "Do you know how long that's going to take?" De Niro says, "I don't care."

Somebody's got to be the asshole. In Casino, De Niro plays an anal-retentive jerk who is obsessed with perfection in his work. He seems to go overboard, but unfortunately, running a tight ship requires a disciplinarian. Take a look at sports teams and classrooms or just go into a McDonald's; it's easy to tell where the management is working. In a perfect world, we'd have nice, soft conversations, and everyone would work hard for eight hours and go home to a family meal. The truth is, people shirk, they screw around, and they like to eat out. On a side note, it's good to have a complimentary manager to offset the "cruel" manager. Giving the underlings someone they can talk to will help morale. Nobody wants to be a doormat.

Never believe you’re invincible

In Road to Perdition, Tom Hanks is a mob enforcer on the run. Just when he thinks he's safe, he gets smoked.

What goes around comes around. You live by the sword, you die by the sword. That punk kid you roughed up way back when? He will remember you until the day he dies. There's a good example of this in Road to Perdition, when the enforcer gets a taste of his own lead medicine. Treachery never goes out of style. No matter how strong you feel, there is always someone stronger or someone who knows where the chink is in your armor. Domination never lasts forever, so it's best to keep that in mind when you have power and control. That's what they called the "wheel of fortune" before it became a game show. Things change, often much faster than you'd like.

Keep your home in order

In Goodfellas, Henry Hill goes off snorting coke with his mistress while his home falls to pieces.

If you live a secret life and expect to have an orderly homebody wife to put up with it and wait back at the ranch to serve your every need, then in addition to "in sickness and in health," you might as well add "crazy" to your wedding vows. It's one thing to stray -- as any man may do. It's another to outright neglect your responsibilities to your home.

You have to gain people’s trust

In Donnie Brasco, Pacino puts his trust in someone who seems like a stand-up guy, but is really a narc.

You are who you say you are. Trust is something that is earned, and usually the best liar is the most trusted person. That's why guys like Donnie Brasco can infiltrate their enemies. Think about it: How do you gain trust? Really, all you have to do is make a sequence of consistent appearances, and pretty soon people will start to believe you’re the real deal. How else would a politician get elected?

The streets ain’t hollywood

Enjoy the movie, but never forget: It's a movie. Life on the street consists in a lot of rejections and hard knocks, but Hollywood likes to soup up the life, make a Cadillac out of a Chevy. I'd love it if I had as many pay days and naked babes as Tony Soprano.

Come to think of it, maybe I should have been an actor.

Thanks to Mr. Mafiosa

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