Depictions of gangs have proved enormously popular in modern entertainment over recent years with the likes of Top Boy, Gangs of London and Peaky Blinders garnering widespread critical acclaim and huge, dedicated audiences in the UK and beyond thanks to various streaming deals. Whilst the aforementioned TV shows are obviously portrayals of British gangs – these isles (whilst popular in the genre) aren’t the only source of inspiration for creators and filmmakers when it comes to depicting gang culture on screen.
Savage (New Zealand)
Upcoming thriller Savage (in UK and Irish cinemas 11th September) is inspired by the true stories of New Zealand’s street gangs across 30 years, and shows a far more hostile side of the beautiful country than we’re accustomed to seeing on screens big or small. The film follows protagonist Danny (later known as Damage) through the key watershed moments of his life, shifting back and forth between his abusive childhood, volatile and disenfranchised teen years through to his isolated and emotionally-distant adulthood in the eighties. At this point, Damage finds himself a brutal gang enforcer at a critical juncture in his life, battling being torn between his biological family and the companionship he found in the gang he now calls his own. Violent and visceral, Savage provides a compelling insight into gang culture and the overbearing role toxic masculinity plays within it.
City Of God (Brazil)
From directors Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, Cidade de Deus (City of God) was one of the most acclaimed films of its year and can often be found on ‘Best Films of the 21st Century’ lists. Given its exceptional naturalistic performances, technical mastery and incredible sense of atmosphere, it’s not difficult to understand why audiences and critics alike lauded it. Based on Paulo Lins semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, the film is set against the backdrop of a lawless slum in Rio de Janeiro where crime runs rife and a life of inescapable destitution and violence seems inevitable for the young protagonist and aspiring photographer, ‘Rocket’. His story narrates the rise and fall of one of the city’s most notorious bosses, Li’l Ze and an ensuing punishing power struggle between the slum’s kingpin and rival gang leaders who are trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of violence. As war wages on the streets, Rocket’s only way out of this dangerous life is to document the world he lives in through his gift of photography. Though City of God is the antithesis of ‘easy viewing’, this extraordinary feat of filmmaking runs at full throttle and is a truly enthralling watch.
Gangs Of New York (United States of America)
This Scorcese epic from 2002 boasts a stellar ensemble cast headed up by excellent performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and all-time supreme talent, Daniel-Day Lewis. The supporting cast is equally strong with the likes of Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, Stephen Graham and many more all making appearances over the course of its near 3 hour running time. As is often the case with gang related drama and violence, revenge is the fiery driving force of this grisly feature. Set in the early 1860s in the Five Points district of Manhattan against the backdrop of the American Civil War, the film revolves around Amsterdam Vallon (DiCaprio) as he returns to Five Points to wreak vengeance on his father’s murderer, the sinisterly named – Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting (Day-Lewis), ruthless leader of the immigrant-intolerant Natives, Manhattan’s most powerful gang. Not one for the squeamish or faint-hearted, Gangs of New York is a gruelling period drama that demonstrates the riotous brutality of gangs in that era who thrived in the environment of corruption, class-struggle, conscription and chaos, where the committing of a crime seemingly had little consequence in the eyes of the law.
Blue Story (United Kingdom)
A remarkable British box office success, Blue Story was created, written, directed and narrated by award winning UK music artist Rapman and was an exceptional directorial debut that solidified its creator as one to watch. This south London based drama chronicles best friends Timmy (Stephen Odubola) and Marco (Micheal Ward) who go to the same high school in Peckham but live in neighbouring boroughs. When Marco is attacked by one of Timmy’s primary school friends the two boys find themselves bitterly divided and on rival sides of a vicious postcode gang war in which a tragic end seems completely avoidable yet utterly inevitable. As urgent as it is authentic, Blue Story highlights the dangerously cyclical and heart-breakingly mindless nature of gang violence between young men and packs a weighty emotional punch in the process.