It was argued in the beginning of the chapter that some films under analysis portray synthetic types of characters who may fit several typological clusters at once. The early American gangster sagas – The Public Enemy, The Roaring Twenties, and White Heat – were structured in the ready-made plots, all leading to the collapse of the main character’s life and career. At certain stages of the career chronicle, the heroes took on the roles different from the previously manifested ones.
For example, Tom Powers, the type of an epic gangster, turned into an avenger when he killed his teacher-in-crime Putty Nose partly for the latter’s treachery and gunned the members of the rival gang avenging for his friend’s death. Another epic gangster, Eddie Bartlett became ‘a man-on-the-run’ when he shot his fellowman George Hally. Eddie was unable to put up with the fact that his beloved woman, Jean Sherman (Priscilla Lane), fell in love with his another partner, Lloyd Hart (Jeffrey Lynn). George Hally was murdered like those medieval couriers who were put to death for bad news.
And Eddie by shooting his best friend attempted to escape from bitter reality. Cody Jarrett from White Heat, the type of ‘a man-on-the-run’, possessed many features of an epic gangster since he also evidenced his criminal empire thriving and then falling into pieces. The dubious typology of Amsterdam Vallon from Gangs of New York has already been discussed. In the present chapter, the three most evident cases of ambivalent characters’ typology are discussed: Goodfellas, Brother, and Gangster No. 1.
The atypical characters from Pulp Fiction are also analysed below. Henry Hill, the main character of Goodfellas, is interesting not only in regard to his background as an unfortunate criminal but also for his changing of status from the gangster to the FBI informant. The first part of the movie resembles the classic chronicles of criminal careers. Like Tom Powers from the earlier American film, Henry could not but become a gangster. He was brought up in the criminal neighbourhood and mobsters were Henry’s first teachers and life models.
The hero was lucky to scoop a large profit altogether with the two high-flyers, Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) and Tommy De Vito (Joe Pesci). However, Henry’s further prosperity was undermined partly because of his drug abuse. Drugs became “a trope for […] hard-core criminality” (Leitch 2002, p. 45) and a social misbalance. When Henry had to turn to the FBI for protection from his brothers-in-arms, the character stepped into the class of ‘a man-in-disguise’, the individuals who were put between a stone and a hard place.
The acidity of Hill’s dubious life is intensified if one takes into consideration the first law of the criminal world once praised by his apprentices. Jimmy Conway used to define this law as “Keep your mouth shut, and don’t rat on your friends” (cited Leitch 2002, p. 104). The blurring of rigid typical frames and the paradoxical manner of “miring us in the quotidian” (Rafter 2000, p. 43) are magnificently showed in the episode when the main hero “cooks spaghetti sauce with one hand and tries to move a cocaine shipment with the other” (Rafter 2000, p. 43).
This and other episodes inspired Rafter (2000, p. 43) to call the movie “as high-spirited as Pulp Fiction, manic as Natural Born Killers, and violent as either”. The ambivalence in regard to the type of the main hero is also present in Kitano’s movie Brother. Sylow (2004, ‘Story’, para. 2, line 1) stated that “Aniki is a refugee”. Yet, despite the clearly manifested traits of an escapee, Aniki managed to stay a rather successful yakuza gangster similar to the American epic gangsters of the earlier period.
Yet the Brother’s gangster is different from either American or British criminals. They displayed an unusual loyalty among themselves, swearing to protect one another under any circumstance, even against their own parents. […] many had turned to banditry when their lords were defeated in battle, looting the towns and countryside as they meandered across Japan. […] (Dubro and Kaplan 2003, pp. 4-5) This is a description of medieval Japanese kabuki-mono, the crazy ones, or the hatamoto-yakko, the servants of the shogun – the warriors on service who were the predecessors of modern yakuza.
Like the Italian Mafia, the Japanese yakuza are organised in families and act within a rigid structure: a godfather is at the top and new members are adopted into the clan as older brothers, younger brothers, and children. The unique Japanese yakuza trait is obeying to the relationship known as oyabun-kobun, or “father role – child role”. The father, or the oyabun, “provides advice, protection, and help”, and the younger member of the clan, or the kobun, pays him “the unquestioning loyalty” (Dubro and Kaplan 2003, p. 112).
Aniki became a fugitive because he obeyed to the classic yakuza codex: he declined to join the rival clan when his oyabun, or the ganglord, was killed. In the United States, where the hero had to move to after his family’s collapse, Aniki makes a mirror evolution: initially being the outlaw with neither roots nor protection, he takes over the Mexican drug-dealing business, hires his former lieutenant Kato to found the Yamamoto family in LA, and becomes partners with Shirase, the member of the other criminal family.
As in traditional gangster sagas, the hero cannot enjoy the fruit of his deeds for a long time. And once again Aniki becomes a man-on-the run when he kidnaps the head of the rival gang and has to flee from the city with his friend Denny. In the end, the hero changes his status one more time when he lets his friend escape with a large sum of money, while himself being shot.