It's the economy, stupid

Gangsters are on the rise at Cannes.

by Jennie Kermode

In uncertain economic times, small scale criminal economies can serve as a metaphor for national ones. That's the observation made by Brad Pitt, promoting Killing Them Softly at the Cannes Film Festival, where Nick Cave's new movie Lawless is alo making a big impression. A restored version of Once Upon A Time In America completes the set. Gangsters are back, with something to say.

One thing that marks out this new wave of gangster movies is their lack of glamour. Brutality is dished out casually, sometimes randomly, and although it may be stylishly shot there is no effort to make it look cool. In Killing Them Softly, Ray Liotta takes a beating. It appealed to him, he has said, to be on the receiving end for a change. Who's going up and who's going down is unpredictable and Pitt has compared this directly to the economic collapse of 2008. As his character describes it, "America is not a country, it's a business."

Cave, meanwhile, sees his film as a testament to the traditional values held by small business owners in America. The three brothers at the heart of his story are dedicated and hard working but Prohibition means their bootlegging business is on the wrong side of the law. Guy Pearce's terrifying deputy sheriff is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to corruption in authority.

Alongside these films comes the announcement that Robert De Niro is planning another gangster movie - this time with cult director Luc Besson. Malavita will shoot in August and will look at the fate of a criminal turned grass in a witness protection scheme.

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