Revisiting the Powerful Themes of A Bronx Tale
Fatherhood, loyalty and racism. A Bronx Tale is a fascinating movie filled with powerful themes and memorable quotes.
It may not be the most famous gangster movie of all time, but A Bronx Tale is a fascinating film which has aged well, with many of its themes still relevant today.
Released in 1993, A Bronx Tale is a coming of age story about Calogero Anello, a nine year old Italian-American boy who inadvertently becomes involved with local mob boss Sonny LoSpecchio, after denying the fact that he witnessed Sonny murder someone in his street.
Sonny then takes a liking to Calogero, which angers his hard-working father who refuses to allow his son to become involved with the mob.
The film was Robert De Niro's debut as a director, and is set in a Bronx neighbourhood in the 1960s. Its powerful themes, along with many memorable quotes make the film highly intriguing, and highly rewatchable. Without trying to spoil it for those who are yet to watch A Bronx Tale (and you really should watch it), we revisit three of the film’s most prominent themes.
After opting not to tell the police that he witnessed the murder, Calogero is immediately torn between Sonny (played by Chazz Palminteri) and his father Lorenzo (Robert De Niro). Sonny wants to repay “C” for saving him from the law, while Lorenzo strongly discourages any criminal activity and wants to instil the ethics of honesty and hard work into his impressionable son.
Calogero is immediately fascinated by the aura of Sonny and is enthralled by the perceived glamour of life in the mob. Eight years later, he still shares a close bond with Sonny, and defies his father's orders to stay away.
This sets up a fascinating tussle between Lorenzo and Sonny, as the mob boss becomes somewhat of a father figure in Calogero’s life, sharing his knowledge and wisdom while anointing him with the nickname “C”. Meanwhile, Lorenzo is a bus driver who does not have much to show for it, but is trying to make a better life for his son, who continues to be attracted by Sonny’s influence.
From the moment they met, Sonny gives Calogero several pieces of advice, shared with powerful quotes. This upsets Lorenzo, particularly when Sonny shut down the father-son bond over their beloved New York Yankees...
“Mickey Mantle makes $100,000 a year. How much does your father make? You don't know? Well, see if your father can't pay the rent go ask Mickey Mantle and see what he tells you. Mickey Mantle don't care about you, so why should you care about him? Nobody cares.”
Lorenzo was also outraged when he sees Calogero driving Sonny’s flashy car, and confronted his son, causing him to angrily storm out. But what was the real reason behind Lorenzo's anger?
Was it simply because he did not want his son associating with criminals? Or was it due to the fact that Lorenzo’s hard working morals did not provide him with many rewards and did not allow him to give Calogero the luxury (and advice) that Sonny would regularly offer?
The film cleverly depicts the ongoing tussle when Lorenzo gives Calogero a bus ride back home, where he then demands a friend pay him back $20 that he loaned him. However, he’s immediately stopped by Sonny, who explains why he should forget about the $20, to which Calogero replies “You’re always right”.
As with many mafia films, the theme of loyalty is prevalent throughout A Bronx Tale, and is a powerful theme from the beginning of the film until the closing credits.
From the tense moment that nine year old Calogero falsely tells the police that he did not witness Sonny commit a murder, the two share a strong loyalty towards each other.
Sonny also explains to Calogero that the power of fear produces loyalty, and admits that he would rather be feared than loved to ensure that loyalty remains. “It's fear that keeps them loyal to me. But the trick is not to be hated. That's why I treat my men good, but not good good.”
This quote resonates back to the start of the film, where Calogero decided not to tell the police about the murder, most likely out of fear for the mob boss.
Calogero’s loyalty to both his father and Sonny, and his willingness to portray that loyalty to both men is also evident throughout the film, and is summed up perfectly when he explains the life lessons that he learnt from both, at the end of A Bronx Tale:
“Sonny and my father always said that when I get older I would understand. Well, I finally did. I learned something from these two men. I learned to give love and get love unconditionally. You just have to accept people for what they are, and I learned the greatest gift of all. The saddest thing in life is wasted talent, and the choices that you make will shape your life forever.”
Along with fatherhood and loyalty, the theme of racism is also constant throughout A Bronx Tale, and is also quite confronting.
With ongoing violence between the Italian-Americans and African-Americans in the Bronx, Calogero’s world is turned upside when he falls in love with Jane, an African-American girl.
He is torn between his crush on Jane and his racist friends insistence on attacking African-Americans, which included Jane’s brother.
As Calogero seeks guidance from both Lorenzo and Sonny about dating Jane, it’s Sonny who has the sensible, level-headed response and tells “C” to go for, albeit with an analogy to famous champion boxers:
“You gotta do what your heart tells you to do. Let me tell you somethin' right now. You're only allowed three great women in your lifetime. They come along like the great fighters, every ten years. Rocky Marciano. Sugar Ray Robinson. Joe Louis.” Sonny encourages to follow his heart and ignore anyone else’s racial prejudice, “Tell you right now. See this girl? Maybe this girl, she put wind in your sails. Maybe she's your first great one.”
Unfortunately for Calogero, Lorenzo is sceptical about an Italian-American dating a girl from a different culture, as he tells his son “you would never do that”. This again causes Calogero (and the viewers) to compare Sonny and Lorenzo’s morals.
When Calogero is peer-pressured by his bigoted friends to drive with them to the black neighbourhood and pelt their rivals with Molotov cocktails, it is Sonny who gets wind of the situation and forces him out of the car. This interference would save Calogero’s life, as his friends in the car are all killed when a Molotov cocktails is thrown back at them.
If you haven’t seen A Bronx Tale, we advise you to check it out next time you’re looking for a great film to watch. Its powerful themes combined with the performances of Chazz Palminteri and Robert De Niro ensure for a gripping two hours of entertainment.
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