While the illegal activities of enterprising criminal gangs have long served as prime material for the movies, the ‘Dixie Mafia’, a loosely connected network of moonshiners, drug dealers, and thieves, has mostly avoided capture on the silver screen.
While not as glamorous as their New York mafia counterparts, this organization which operates out of the Deep South states around Mississippi, is equally violent with a known ferocity towards the despatching of snitches or anyone who threatens their shadowy existence.
New southern-fried crime thriller Arkansas, sends viewers on a journey into this secretive world of Deep South drug dealing. The film follows low-level pushers Kyle (Liam Hemsworth, The Hunger Games franchise) and Swin (Clark Duke, The Office) who live by the orders of mysterious Arkansas-based drug kingpin, Frog (Vince Vaughn, Dragged Across Concrete), who they’ve never met. Posing as junior park rangers by day, they operate as low-level drug traffickers by night, all under the watchful eye of Frog’s proxies (John Malkovich, Vivica A. Fox).
As the pair begin to grapple for control of the lucrative underworld operation, Swin and Kyle soon find themselves under Frog’s deadly crosshairs. Who will survive to become the boss of Arkansas’ fierce drug trade?
To celebrate the first release of Arkansas on Digital Download and DVD we’ve taken a tour of some of the most volatile drug gangs from around the world.
Brian De Palma’s Scarface cast Al Pacino, at the heights of his Hollywood megastardom, as the vicious drug baron Tony Montana, a Cuban refugee who arrives in 1980s Miami. Tony quickly climbs to the top of the Miami underworld as a feared cocaine dealer, leaving a trail of bodies and betrayal in his wake.
The film was a remake of the 1932 Howard Hawks’ mob classic of the same name, so De Palma had big shoes to fill but with stylish direction, a gripping story and excellent performances. The film more than proves to be the equal of its early Hollywood predecessor.
Already revered for his many crime roles including The Godfather I & II, Pacino was the perfect actor to step into Scarface’s shoes, creating an iconic cinematic character with a repertoire of quotable lines such as ‘Say hello to my little friend’ in the film’s explosive climax as Tony, armed with a machine gun, fights to the death against a rival gang of Bolivian cocaine traffickers. One of cinema’s greatest gangster flicks!
CITY OF GOD (2002)
Audiences were introduced to a violent new world set amid the drug-riddled favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with 2002’s City of God.
Seen through the eyes of budding young photographer Rocket, viewers were given a personal tour of the inaccessible warzone that the city’s slum neighbourhoods had become by the late 70s. Among the cast of colourful young characters found within the favela walls are drug-pushing gang leader Li’l Zé, a volatile and dangerous psychopath who earned his crown through the murder of Rockets brother years earlier, along with rival boss Carrot, Li’l Zé’s chilled out partner-in-crime Benny, and beautiful hippy Angélica.
A visual tour-de-force, the film was unlike any other from the time, capturing the energy and life of a terribly poor and deprived area of the world which few Western audiences were aware of . With a cast of non-actors drawn directly from the favelas themselves, in part due to a lack of professional black actors in the city, co-directors Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund crafted a new and exciting tale that would earn them four Academy Award nominations.
AMERICAN GANGSTER (2007)
Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington took on the role of the real-life heroin kingpin Frank Lucas, who operated in Harlem, New York City in the 1960s and 1970s.
In the film, we first meet Washington’s Lucas as the right-hand man of boss Bumpy Johnson, who then takes control of the narcotics empire following Johnson’s death. As Lucas rises through the criminal ranks, he amasses great wealth by cutting out the middleman, getting heroin directly from the source in South East Asia while making more than a few enemies along the way, including with the New York mafia. Hot on his trail is Richie Roberts (played by Russell Crowe), the heroic real-life detective who stood up to Lucas’ violent drug empire.
In 1976 the real-life Lucas was apprehended following Roberts’ investigation and sentenced to 70 years in prison for drug-trafficking but was released only five years later after becoming an informant. Although both Lucas and Roberts saw the film on its release and said it took liberties with the truth, American Gangster is still a thrilling biopic about one of New York’s most vicious gang leaders, with a stand-out performance from Washington.
DRUG WAR (2012)
Director Johnnie To made his name with stylish tales of criminal enterprise set amid the bustling city streets of his native Hong Kong including Breaking News (2004), Election (2005) and Sparrow (2008).
Having earned international acclaim, and fans including Quentin Tarantino, To made the move to mainland China for epic action thriller Drug War. The film opens with drug dealer Choi fleeing from his drug production facility and straight into the capture of tough police captain Zhang. Faced with the death penalty, Choi quickly turns informer, soon enticing Captain Zhang with the promise of information on the ‘Big 7’ gangster bosses. But how much of what Choi says is true and how much is a ploy in order to save his skin?
Hong Kong star Louis Koo leads the cast as Choi, a Johnnie To regular, Koo broke free from his early romantic-comedy roots earning praise for his chilling performances in To’s Election and its sequel Election 2 before returning to the rom-com genre with To with Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 1 & 2. Drug War saw a flashy South Korean remake, Believer, arrive in 2018 with Asia’s biggest drug cartel now operating out of Seoul.
Inspired by the non-fiction investigative book by Roberto Saviano that shed light on Naples’ violent mafia organisation the Camorra, Sky’s critically acclaimed series Gomorrah documents the brutal and shocking activities of a fictional Camorra that mirrors the city’s real-life criminal scourge.
Throughout its four thrilling seasons we follow the volatile and violent operations of a number of different criminal clans, as they grapple for power in what is described as ‘Europe’s biggest open-air drug market.’
Amid the plethora of intimidating criminals who are despatched with disturbing regularity, two characters anchor the series: Gennaro Savastano (Salvator Esposito) and Ciro Di Marzio (Marco D’Amore), both giving commanding performances and providing the show with a corrupted moral centre.
Fans rejoiced in 2020, when it was announced the show would be renewed for a fifth series, and Ciro’s early days as a young gangster can soon be witnessed in a prequel film called Immortal. Dark, shocking and uncompromisingly brutal, Gomorrah is not for the faint of heart but with its compelling tale of underworld crime it’s hard to look away. Do not miss.
Arkansas is on Digital Download and DVD now from Lionsgate UK