Because he was too young, because he was so admired, and because he made possibly the first great television show of the 21st century, James Gandolfini’s untimely death is an enormous loss. I, like many others, will never shut up about what Gandolfini brought to The Sopranos. Yes, in the post-Goodfellas era, it wasn’t hard to see a big, dark dude with a North Jersey twang and suspend your disbelief. Gandolfini’s physicality and heft didn’t hurt, nor did the fact that he often appeared on screen surrounded by actors from the Scorsese canon. The man knew how to play a gangster, and there were moments in The Sopranos when he performed on the level of James Cagney.
If you’ve been thinking for the past 12 hours about why you loved James Gandolfini, you are in all likelihood thinking about that same memorable performance of Tony Soprano. But at 38, Gandolfini was hardly a tenderfoot when The Sopranos started, and he achieved a lot before and since. Here are a few of his best, most underrated roles.
The Last Castle (2001)
Playing the operator of a military penitentiary, Gandolfini faced off with General Eugene Irwin, played by the monotonously handsome Robert Redford, a decorated veteran who leads an uprising within the prison.
Best scene: Upon his arrival, Winter leaves the room to retrieve one of Irwin’s books for him to sign, only to hear Irwin in the other room surmising that memorabilia — even war memorabilia — is for wimps. Winter pretends the book was mislaid, and holds a heavy grudge.