Off Topic: The Criminal Underworld

Off Topic: The Criminal Underworld

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been rewatching a lot of TV shows and even reading stories featuring the criminal underworld in some way, shape or fashion. I’m almost done rewatching the first Underbelly series, while halfway through the second. Hell, there was a great story about Yakuza talking about what it was like to play Yakuza 3.

Question is: what are your favourite stories, books, films and shows about the criminal underworld?

I’ve been meaning to rewatch The Sopranos from start to finish, mostly because I never watched the series from the beginning the first time. I also have something shameful to admit: I’ve barely watched any of The Wire, something that I should probably rectify sooner rather than later.

Movie-wise, I always liked The Usual Suspects. I found it fairly digestable viewing, particularly in comparison to some of the older classics (Scarface, The Godfather series). Maybe I’m just of a generation that doesn’t have the requisite level of patience for films from that era, though.

What’s your favourite works about the criminal underworld? (Also, I know that’s a photo of the Grim Reaper. That’s what iStock brought up when I searched criminal underworld. I guess Death isn’t considered a law-abiding citizen of the netherrealm. Or something.)


  • Infernal Affairs. The original and the best of a damn cottage industry that it spawned.

    My brother’s a fiend for the ‘true-crime’ novels that the Victorian underworld has produced. You can’t really call them true crime because they’re written so damn lovingly though. How many seasons did they make of bloody Underbelly anyway?

  • I tried watching The Wire. Did nothing for me. After it had been built up so long. Still haven’t checked out The Sopranos or West Wing which I’ve heard are both great.

  • Definitely The Wire and Oz for tv shows. Oz will make you cry. It made me cry.

    For movies, Smoking Aces should be mentioned for sure.

    • Loved OZ back in the day! The first HBO show I watched, loved the monologue sessions with Augustus.

  • The Wire is among my top 5 TV Shows of all time. In depth complex characters, great story line and nothing else rivals it in its exploration of the effects of the drug trade from the perspectives of the street dealers, community, police and politicians. Also recently binged through an awesome Italian series called Gomorrah which is like a cross between The Wire and Sopranos.

    • Didn’t realise there was a TV series of that, watched the movie Gomorrah years ago. Will have to check it out.

  • I want to say Breaking Bad but that was less about the criminal underworld and more about one a one-man meth empire.

    For “underworld” stories where you really get to see a structured networked organisation operating covertly to carry out crimes, I’d have to pitch in a mention of the Triads in Sleeping Dogs and the Mafia in Mafia II, as far as games go. For TV I feel like the first couple of seasons of Underbelly were decent, with Golden Mile and Razor it felt less like a peek at the seedy Underbelly and more like a sustained campaign of cops & robbers. I never watched The Sopranos.
    For movies, harder to say. Embarrassingly I’ve not seen the Usual Suspects or any of the Godfather movies. I guess Scarface is a given but again, it’s really the story of one man.

    • Hahaha! My friend’s step mum decided to watch the marathon of the Bill one week that she had off, and he was on school holidays. Now whenever you play that theme (especially the more recent guitar version) he folds up into the fetal position…

      • Wow, it would take by my rough calculations around 50 days of non-stop watching to watch every one of the 2400 episodes (they experimented with episode length from time to time).

        I’ve got every episode on DVD up to about 1993 or so. Still trying to complete my collection.

        • I think the step mum was on leave or something so she just smashed a week’s worth. Either way he’s scarred for life though lol.

          Nice work, that’s a 3rd of it roughly? I remember this comedy sketch ages ago where this guy buys the complete box set and he walkes out with this gigantic long box of 200 dvds or whatever haha.

          • Yeah, that’s pretty much it. I think I’d have at least 90+ DVDs. The earlier seasons came in wallets instead of boxes because they included so many DVDs.

  • The Shield, it deals with police corruption quite well (one of the most powerful forms of organized crime!). And it has one of the best finales I’ve seen 😉

  • I love this genre. I think what makes it so great for me is that writers are actually trying to portray a bad person or group as being the good guys. I have always been fascinated at the concept. You know you shouldn’t be rooting for these guys, but a lot of the characters are so likeable and well written that you ignore that fact. Goodfellas and Casino are amazing. I like the Godfather series but they are heavy going. It’s probably not a good idea jumping straight into the Godfather if you’re dipping your toe, especially if you’re not into long movies. The Untouchables is one of my favourite movies ever. Oh, and Snatch. That movie is a classic.

    In fact, my favourite movie of all time is Ocean’s 11 (new one), which many will scoff at, as there are many things wrong with that movie. But I just have so much fun with it every time I watch it. Same with most of the Nick Cage movies like Face off, Con Air and Gone in 60 Seconds. Stupid as shit movies but so fun to watch.

    • On the Nick Cage crime movie front, ‘Bad Lieutenant, Port of Call New Orleans’ is excellent, and well worth a watch.

      • If you haven’t seen the original Bad Lieutenant check it out. Harvey Keitel is incredible in it.
        (Saying “original” isn’t really accurate as both movies really are completely different, but for some reason they named it that to make it seem like a remake/sequel/franchise kind of thing.)

  • The Godfather (should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway). Scorsese has done some great ones (Goodfellas and Casino spring to mind immediately). Miller’s Crossing. Donnie Brasco. Heat. The Usual Suspects.

    I love all of these. There are probably a heap more that I can’t think of right now…

    • I think I like Lock Stock better than Snatch for the simple reason that it has Walk This Land by EZ Rollers (Drinking scene – which has got to be one of the best drinking scenes on film – ). Oh, and Dexter Fletcher 😉

      • Nah Snatch wins out for me. Lock Stock is a great movie, but Snatch was just that little bit more fun to watch, plus it had Welsh Brad Pitt! I found it way more quotable as well but maybe thats just me.

          • What’s happening with them sausages, Charlie?
            Five minutes, Turkish.
            It was two minutes five minutes ago.

            But still….

            Seems? Well, this seems to be a waste of my time. That is 900 nicker in any shop you’re lucky enough to find one in. And you’re complaining about 200? What school of finance did you study? “It’s a deal, it’s a steal, it’s the sale of the fucking century!” In fact, fuck it Nick, I think I’ll keep it!


            You could choke a dozen donkeys on that! And you’re haggling over one hundred pound? What d’you do when you’re not buying stereos Nick? Finance revolutions?

            100 pounds is still 100 pounds.

            Not when the price is 200 pounds it’s not! And certainly not when you’ve got Liberia’s deficit in your skyrocket. Tighter than a duck’s butt you are. Now, c’mon. Lemme feel the fibre of your fabric.

  • Couple not mentioned so far: Outrage (not for the squeamish),
    Sin Nombre,
    Fargo (movie and TV versions are both excellent),
    Stray Bullets (comic books. Collection of interlocking stories; really well told, but also not for the squeamish)

    Because I was reminded by the other comments: Gotham Central by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka is also a great read and puts a really interesting spin on the Batman mythos.

    • Stray bullets ey? Who published that and wrote it etc. may have to check it out. I’ve posted below but if u haven’t yet , check out Criminal by Brubaker and also the Parker adaptations by the late great Darwyn Cooke. I read all their stuff voraciously once I found it

      • David Lapham wrote it, Image publishes it. I don’t know what else David Lapham has written but I think he got an Eisner for this (if that counts for anything).

        I love Brubaker and Criminal’s on my To Read list, but there’s too much good stuff these days! Parker’s also on my radar. Dang wallet…

        • I’ll check stray bullets out for sure. Love image with a passion these days. You’re right, so much good reading in the medium these days especially once you’ve gotten a little burned out on superhero stuff like I have. Marvel r basically rebooting again , for like the third time in 3 years or so and I’m just over trying to follow it!

  • Oh my god, how has nobody not mentioned Leverage yet?! It was AMAZING.

    Also, not sure if it counts, but seeing how it was a series about stealing I’m also gonna say Sly Cooper.

  • I guess Death isn’t considered a law-abiding citizen of the netherrealm. Or something.

    Or to go by Terry Prachette, He’s the one that does the paper work and gets annoyed if one lives longer than planned or dies in the wrong place.

  • Movie: Chopper was pretty good. It seemed like a pretty accurate description of Chopper Read and the criminal underworld of those days…

    TV: There was also some old show (90’s I think) on ABC called Phoenix. That was really good… Would recommend for realistic police/criminal drama…
    Also Blue Murder. The best Australian criminal underworld mini series and portrays the real events accurately. Better than Underbelly I reckon.

  • One of my favourites that doesn’t get as much attention as it should is Sexy Beast. Ben Kingsley gives, in my opinion, the greatest “bad guy” performance ever. Ray Winstone & Ian McShane are also great in it.

    • Such a brilliant film. Performances are all stellar, and the script, direction, and cinematography are top notch. It would be worth it for the opening scene alone.

    • Another underappreciated British gangster flick is ‘Love Honour and Obey’ (also with Ray Winston), if you haven’t seen it. If not, know that it has a diamond heist being done by a group of guys who decided to take viagra beforehand for no apparent reason…

  • There’s some great comics by Ed Brubaker titled Criminal that delve into the seedy underbelly of the crime world. Well worth a read.

  • Oh and there’s City Of God, about poverty, crime and corruption in the slums of Rio. Awesome movie.

  • Well, since everybody has already mentioned most of my western favorites, I’d like to drop the Hong Kong director Johnny To and some of his movies. Especially “Election” and “The Mission”. Both are absolutely fantastic movies focused on the triads. Also, on Aussie Netflix a while ago they had Outrage starring Takeshi Kitano. That was a really enjoyable Yakuza movie.

  • Woah woah…just reading through the comments. How has no one (myself included…I feel ashamed) mentioned Pulp Fiction or Resovior Dogs? RD maybe not so much but definitely Pulp Fiction is right up there in terms of amazing underworld/gangster movies…

  • I can never go past Blue Murder. The true story TV mini-series featuring every Australian actor ever that looks into NSW police corruption through the filter of Neddy Smith and Detective Sergeant Roger Rogerson. What’s even cooler about this, other than some of the stellar acting performances (except Warren’s girlfriend Sally Huxtable, a performance so wooden you could put a streetlight on it) is that at the time of release it couldn’t be sold in NSW due to the ongoing court cases.

    If you’re younger, you’d know Roger Rogerson as the old dude who recently got done for murdering a young Korean (I think) chap over an ice deal.

    My dad was a copper in Tasmania for 40+ years, he tells me they used to send Rogerson down to our police stations when he’d been too naughty and they wanted the heat on him to die down.

    Also, another big +1 for the Wire, absolutely raw, realistic television. Also can’t go past Goodfellas/Casino and The Departed as some excellent hollywood takes on how the other side of life can play out.

  • Film:
    1. Ordinary Descent Criminal
    2. Disorganized Crime

    Police v. Corruption/comedy
    3. Bad Eggs
    4. Hot Fuzz

    TV Series:
    Police Corruption
    5. The Shield

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