Bonanno: A Godfather's Story (1999 TV Movie)
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Some comments are negative because they claim the movie "glorifies" criminals. Personally, I don't agree with that view. In any event, regardless of the value judgments one might pass, this movie is full of merit for many reasons.
It is a wonderful time piece, taking us from Sicily of the early 1900s to the US of the 1990s. The sets are wonderful, the wardrobe outstanding. And the actors are excellent, except for the man playing Joe Masseria, who I think overacted a bit. Although, perhaps that's what Masseria was like.
The script, the critical element that truly makes (or breaks) a film, IMO is also very good. In addition to telling the story it has to tell, it includes a bonus. And that is small tidbits of "universal wisdom," if you will.
- The importance of one's word. The movie evokes a time when that meant a great deal, in contrast to current times.
- The importance of never forgetting those who have lent you a hand in the past, and expressing gratitude for it by returning the favor when the opportunity arises.
- Maxims such as "When it's your life that's on the line, you can only trust yourself".
Perhaps a 10 is a tad too generous, but I'd give it no less than a 9.
The reason it gets a 10 is as kudos for having produced a great script. Great scripts of all genres need to be produced, and not the garbage that keeps getting cranked out. The saying goes, "you can have a bad movie with a good script, but you can't have a good movie with a bad script." In this case, we have a great script and great production, which equals a great movie.
The script is not only obvious (all of the checklist boxes end up being ticked), but spends a lot of time trying to create a pastiche of the best of other people's work. The Godfather being the most obvious, but there are other references too. I won't bother naming them. Nevertheless it is a good taste borrower! The producer seems to set a quota for gunshots and murder (one at least every twenty minutes?) and the ending is weak and "so what?" I am told there are various versions of this production so that maybe that is just the version I have seen.
Gangsters don't make money they take money. Usually by fear. Some seem more in to the murder and mayhem side of the business than making money. They were the ones that were the first to go (in real life and here). "You can't make money with a gun in your hand" says Charlie 'Lucky' Luciano at one stage. One of the smarter gangsters, although all things are relative. He was a skilled white slave trader and a drug dealer before being bundled home to Italy.
The old school "moustached Pete's" were picked off by the new bloods who wanted the power and the money for themselves and to break free of the straight jacket of Italian/Sicilian power (rarely doing business outside themselves). The young Turk knew they needed to be allied with other groups (most notably "the Jews" who knew how to launder money) and this is at least referenced and acknowledged. What isn't made so clear is that most immigrant groups had their own Mafia's - but most of them made their money and went legit. And why not? Who wants to die in jail?
Joseph Bonanno was a ruthless man prepared to kill if needs be , but not an unfair or stupid one. His story was tragic in that he could have made money in the over ground world and he showed a special skill in avoiding getting killed. With a little bit of luck attached, naturally.
Despite the range of respectable names and three actors in the title role (Bruce Ramsay, Martin Landau and Tony Nardi) there isn't the charisma or the talent to bring us in and feel anything. We are - merely - passive observers in a life we are glad not to have lead. The people shown here were born in to a cruel world but their only mark was to make it crueler.
If you can't get enough of the gangster genre that will be better than watching Godfather 1 & 2 for the tenth time and it is even better -- as basic entertainment -- than the horrible misfire that was Godfather 3.