From Tony Montana to Don Corleone, these iconic cinematic gangsters provide killer advice on how to get ahead in business and life.
10. “Don’t get high off your own supply.” —Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer) to Tony Montana (Al Pacino) in ‘Scarface’
This is advice that Tony unfortunately fails to follow, descending into chronic cocaine abuse and all the paranoid, god complex, megalomania that habit often entails — leading to some decidedly poor decision making that precipitates his eventual termination (literally) on the orders of his big boss. The lesson for non-gangsters: Don’t get so wrapped up in the minutiae of your business that you fail to see the bigger picture. Maintain clarity, and don’t let success go to your head such that you ever feel invincible. Pride comes before the fall. (Another very obvious lesson: Don’t get hooked on coke — it won’t end well, my little friend.)
9. “Never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut.” —Jimmy Conway (Robert DeNiro) to Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) in ‘Goodfellas’
In commercial and personal relationships, trust is essential — your friends, family, loved-ones and business associates need to know they can count on you. Never betray a confidence, and know that in almost every situation, silence really is golden. We’ve got two ears and one mouth for a reason: listen twice as much as you talk. As the old saying goes: “Better to stay quiet and be thought a fool, than speak and have that opinion confirmed.” The words of the Miranda ring true in everyday life: You have the right to remain silent, if you choose to give up that right, what you say may be used against you.
8. “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.” —Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) in ‘The Godfather’
No-one laments on their death-bed that they spent too little time in the office. Keep in mind why you’re working hard, and who you’re working hard to provide for — and make every effort to spend as much time as possible with your family, especially — if you’ve got kids — when they’re young. They grow up fast, and you’ll never be able to get that time back. You can always make more money, but a moment lost with those you love is gone forever.
Family comes first for Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather.
7. “In the casino, the cardinal rule is to keep them playing and to keep them coming back. The longer they play, the more they lose, and in the end, we get it all.” —Ace Rothstein (Robert DeNiro) in ‘Casino’
You can’t simply give up after making that first sale to a client, Vegas gaming genius Rothstein is saying. You have to turn them into a repeat customer, retain their loyalty so they’ll spend with you over and over again. This applies not only in a commercial sense, but insofar as friends and lovers go. Once wooed, don’t consider a woman ‘won’, keep seducing her each and every day — or you can be pretty damn sure someone else will. Work hard to maintain friendships, or risk seeing important people walk out of your life. Keep ’em at the table, player.
6. “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.” —Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) in ‘The Godfather’
You may begin to feel that your partners, clients, customers, co-workers, employers or employees are friends, but when it comes down to it, business is business, and really it’s all a matter of dollars and cents. Behind a friendly smile, most people will happily stab you in the back and walk all over you if it means saving a buck. You have to remember that, and act accordingly. Even when it comes to clear-cut rivals you’ve got no love for, you must remain dispassionate. “Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgment,” as Corleone puts it in the final part of the Godfather trilogy.
5. “You can get more with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word alone.” —Al Capone (Robert DeNiro) in ‘The Untouchables’
It’s the old concept of the carrot and the stick here. Is it better to be loved or feared? Capone is saying, it’s best to be both. Treat your people well, be friendly and generous, lavish them with praise and compliments — but leave them in no doubt that if they mess up, if they fail to deliver, are foolish or disloyal, there will be serious consequences. Let no-one ever mistake your kindness for weakness.
4. “You don’t make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home. The rest is bullshit.” —Charlie (Harvey Keitel) in ‘Mean Streets’
It’s all very well to beg holy forgiveness, Keitel’s devoutly religious mafioso is saying, but in the lead-up to reaching the Pearly Gates, we have to take responsibility for our actions in the here-and-now, make amends with those we’ve wronged, pay back those we owe, and basically do unto others as we’d have them do unto us. During our lives, we need to be “honorable men”, to draw on another of this Scorsese classic’s more memorable lines.
3. “I don’t wanna be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me.” —Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) in ‘The Departed’
Neatly paraphrasing the great Rakim lyric “It ain’t where ya from, it’s where ya at,” Boston crime boss Costello argues that we should not be content to let our background define who we are, that it is within our power to rise above the circumstances of our birth or upbringing and shape the world around us. Nothing is predetermined — we are what we make of ourselves, and our perception of the world becomes our reality.
These fellas take a commercial arrangement very seriously.
2. “Business bad? Fuck you, pay me. Oh, you had a fire? Fuck you, pay me. Place got hit by lightning, huh? Fuck you, pay me.” —Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) in ‘Goodfellas’
If you’re good at something, you should always get paid for it. If you’ve provided a product or service, don’t accept excuses or delays — demand to get paid. You delivered, right? Times might be tough, payback may indeed be a bitch, but a debt can’t simply be forgiven or written off, and if the person you’re dealing with has any sense of honour, they’ll know that and ‘make you whole’. (Of course, this works both ways. If you owe, do whatever it takes to clear the slate, by any means necessary.)
1. “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.” —Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) in ‘Heat’
The career criminal character portrayed by DeNiro here takes the idea to extremes, of course, avoiding deeper human emotional involvement and sacrificing love for the sake of his profession. We’d not recommend going quite that far — love makes the world go ’round, after all, and you’re going to live a far more satisfying life if you do form lasting bonds with your fellow folk. But the very zen sentiment of avoiding attachment to physical things — stuff, possessions, tchotchkes — and being able to happily walk away from all your worldly goods without a care? Now, that does have plenty to commend it. To quote another (unfortunately, non-gangster) film: “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” Ommmm.