It always makes me grumble when film critics use a movie they like as a club to beat up on some other movie that’s not necessarily part of the discussion, that’s an innocent bystander. And George Will, who recently pulled this tactic in his syndicated op-ed column, isn’t even a film critic. In order to praise American Gangster (starring Denzel Washington, left), for showing the consequences (in terms of victims and other collateral damage) of druglord Frank Lucas’ reign, Will beats up on a 35-year-old movie, The Godfather (starring Al Pacino, right), which Will claims made crime too glamorous and too consequence-free. Yo, George, what did the Corleones ever do to you?
First of all, it takes a real willful (no pun intended) misreading of The Godfather to suggest that it doesn’t show any violent consequences of the Mob life except for those criminals who chose it. (What about Michael’s car-bombed Sicilian wife, or that poor horse?) But I don’t think the glamorization of crime is what bothers Will the most. (After all, if there weren’t some appeal to the life of a gangster, who would choose to enter it, or to buy a ticket to see it onscreen? Gangster movies have always operated this way, ever since the 1930s, showing the glitzy upside and then the violent downside. Neither American Gangster nor The Godfather strays from this template.)
No, I suspect what really bothers Will is that The Godfather — and every gangster movie that’s followed, including AG — makes a point of likening the way the Mafia consolidates power to the way government and big business do the same. Will seems to resent this analogy, but it’s been evident to, oh, anyone who’s been to the movies in the last 35 years and anyone who’s seen how oligopolies (whether on Wall Street, in Washington, in Hollywood, or wherever else) operate in the real world. Will calls this analogy “facile cynicism about commercial practices and ‘family values,’” to which the only correct response is Michael Corleone’s: “Now who’s being naive?”
I’ll make Will
an offer he can’t refuse an offer he shouldn’t ignore an offer: I won’t write about economic policy or baseball if he doesn’t write about pop culture.