Organised crime has long been a favourite topic in cinema with the gangster film being a favourite Hollywood genre ever since the 1930s. Gangster films reflected a dark, seductive and hedonistic side of capitalism where the glamour of the gangster lifestyle is only superficially undermined by the obligatory moral ending where the gangsters are either brought to justice or meet a violent demise. Italian gangsters have held the most fascination with The Godfather films, Goodfellas and the television series The Sopranos becoming dominant texts in contemporary popular culture. The depiction of the gangster lifestyle has become progressively less romantic across these texts as they increasingly examine the brutal reality of the criminal lifestyle and mentality. However, nothing has come close to the blunt depiction of Italian organised crime that is presented in the Italian film Gomorrah, which depicts the operations of the Camorra. The Camorra clans populate the Italian provinces of Naples and Caserta but their operations in both illegal and legal businesses, with an estimated yearly turnover of 150 billion euros, are global. They have been responsible for more than 4000 deaths in the last thirty years, which is more than any other criminal organisation or terrorist group.
Despite its grandiose title and being based on a true story, American Gangster is not the definitive American gangster film. Only half the film concerns the gangster element, although it is the classic rise to power story through boldness, cunning and strategic brutality. The other half of the film is the archetypal story of an increasingly shunned cop who overcomes the odds to dispense justice. This aspect of American Gangster, plus its 70s New York and New Jersey urban settings, make it evoke The French Connection and Serpico more than The Godfather or Goodfellas.