I’ve recently been playing Mafia: Definitive Edition and been having a blast. I love the Mafia series, even dusting off the old Playstation 2 a few years ago to experience the original game for the first time. The first Mafia came out nearly twenty years ago, but still has a charm and identity not found in more modern games.
It feels odd and comforting to play the remake so soon after the original game. Despite the remake built from the ground-up, developer Hangar 13 did a spectacular job of bringing the essence and locations of the first game to life. Their craftsmanship is so good that I can use my half-remembered map knowledge of the first game and it translates perfectly to the remake.
I was really excited to play the remake partly due to the story. The original Mafia is a collage of old gangster movie and literary tropes, but always tried to put a unique spin or add a thoughtful aspect into the narrative. This extends to the characters. While most of the cast are Godfather or Soprano’s stock types, lead character Tommy Angelo is an interesting reflection and critique of not just characters in gangster films, but also gangster-based video games like Grand Theft Auto.
One mission that reflects Tommy’s personality and uniqueness in the original game is the chapter called “The Whore”. Don Salieri, Tommy’s boss, learns that a woman in a brothel, Michelle, has been spilling secrets to a rival gang who have taken over said establishment. Tommy is tasked with killing the manager of the brothel and Michelle, before blowing the building up to send a message to any else wanting to switch to protection to the rival gang.
Tommy carries out his task dutifully, killing the manager in front of the paying customers before heading towards Michelle’s room, but as he enters he realises he knows her; she is one of the friends of Tommy’s girlfriend, Sarah. Tommy feels sorry for Michelle and tells her to run and to never come back.
The definitive edition changes the scene…and in my opinion, for the worse.
In the remake, Tommy is asked by one of his friends, Sam, to spare Michelle. It turns out Sam is one of Michelle’s regulars, and he was the one that accidentally told her secrets that she inadvertently spilled to the rival gang. This completely changes the scene and takes away a large part of Tommy’s personality, I’ll explain why.
Here are the two clips from both games. Here’s the first from the original game (start at 5:04).
And here is the second from the remake.
With that set-up, let’s dive in.
Booze, Bullets, Broads and Bums – How Michelle Gives Tommy Angelo Character
I previously said that nearly all the characters are stock types. This can easily be seen with Tommy and his two friends, Paulie and Sam.
Paulie is a bruiser with not much going on between his ears. When doing a first shake-down with the gang, Paulie enters a shop alone, and Tommy can hear the crashing and banging from outside in his car. Frank, the consigliere of the Saleri family, remarks about Paulie, “Paulie has hit his ceiling…he’s not smart enough to run anything.” (1:32:03).
Sam is the more serious of the two, always stony-faced and not a big talker. When Tommy escorts Paulie back from the race track in Chapter 6, Paulie talks about all the ‘bad shit’ he’s done, and says that Sam is able to blank out all the crime in his head. Frank also says, “Sam is loyal, but has no vision.” (see above link). In the end, it is Sam wanting to move up in the crime world that sees him betray Tommy to the Don.
Tommy in the original is very quiet and unassuming. While many game protagonists are like this because they fall prey of Tabula Rasa Syndrome (a blank slate so anyone can project what they want onto them), Tommy’s personality is hammered home by the game script from the start. Even after saving Paulie and Sam from a rival gang and being offered a place in the mob at the start of the game, Tommy initially refuses, saying, “I didn’t want to join some criminals, even if they had all the money in the world. It’s better to be poor and alive than rich and dead…I was going to get my cab repaired and try to forget it as soon as possible.” (11:06).
When Tommy heads back to the Salieri Family for protection after he is jumped by a rival gang for helping Paulie and Sam, the Don points him the direction for the people who attacked him and sends Tommy and Paulie to exact revenge. Frank muses to the Don, “I wouldn’t trust him so much. He seemed hesitant. He’s just accepted now because he has no choice.” (15:49).
Up until the chapter with Michelle, Tommy hasn’t done anything too crazy. He’s been in a few chases, some fistfights and shootouts, but he could always moralise killing other people by thinking it’s the other person or himself on the line.
When he breaks into Michelle’s room and she tries to make excuses, saying she didn’t mean to hurt anyone, Tommy starts thinking, “I knew it. This could only happen to me, a total screw-up. I can’t just kill a young girl. A young naive fool…on the other hand, is it worth getting killed over it?” Tommy decides to risk the Don not finding out and tells Michelle to leave and never come back It’s a perfect example of Tommy’s worldview. He isn’t blinded by faith to the Don, only really becoming a gangster out of fear for his life, rather than any ambition. It adds so much personality to him and reflects in later character moments such as sparing Frank’s life and attempting a botched bank robbery with Paulie.
It also helps that Michael Sorvino, the original voice of Tommy, has a very soft voice. He isn’t a gravely or baritone voice like Sam or Paulie, and he rarely if ever raises his voice in the story. He always sounds like an average joe, rather than a hardened criminal.
In the remake, it’s the complete opposite. While the new actor for Tommy, Andrew Bongiorno, is tremendous throughout, in the Michelle scene, he is very aggressive, pushing the barrel of his gun right up against her head and shouting at her. Overall in the remake, Tommy warms to the gangster life much more than he did at this story point in the original game.
The fact Tommy comes to the decision to let Michelle go because of Sam cuts away at that great character he had in the original game, and in doing so makes him seem more like a general goon rather than someone who was inadvertently roped into the gangster life.
It’s obvious that the Michelle’s connection with Sam was to give Sam some extra spark. In the original game, Sam essentially becomes a tertiary character, with Paulie taking centre stage with Tommy for most of the game. But everyone gets more to play in the remake. Tommy’s wife, Sarah, gets one chapter appearance and then a handful of mentions in the original, but gets upgraded to a main cast member in the remake. Paulie gets more shades with his drinking issue and loose mouth, and Sam gets Michelle as a love interest. I would have been happier for them to just add a completely new narrative arc for Sam, rather than fall back on this one story thread.
At the end of the original game, Sam tells Tommy the Don has ordered Tommy’s execution partly because of letting Michelle live. It’s the same in the remake, with only a passing remark about Sam being sweet on Michelle. I guess it makes Sam even more snake-like than he was in the original, that he’s willing to throw a girl he was very much infatuated with under the bus to get ahead in the mob, but it’s at the detriment of the main character.
In conclusion, I still love Mafia: Defintive Edition. And on its own, I actually really love the Michelle section. The emotions are raw, the dialogue is believable, and the actors sell the hell out of the scene. But as part of a story, I think it undermines Tommy so much. It’s amazing how one scene, with just a small tweak, can totally change how we look at a character and their arc.
I knew Tommy Angelo would change in the remake, but I didn’t know that I wouldn’t find him as compelling as I once did.
If you would like to read more on the Mafia series, I’ve written both on Mafia 2‘s protagonist, Vito Scaletta, and also my love for Mafia III.
Banner Photo Source: epicgames.com