I grew up around all types of fictionalized gangsters.
From 90′s hip-hop to Hollywood versions of true stories like Goodfellas and Casino, I spent a lot of time viewing the faces and listening to the voices that represented the underbelly of society, and I gotta admit: I loved that shit. Goodfellas is still one of my favorite movies to this day, and there’s nothing in today’s version of hip-hop that can really come close to 2Pac, Biggie, or the like.
The appeal, though, was always this idea that what we were hearing and seeing was the voice of the oppressed; the dramatized personality traits and actions that were meant to humanize criminals, emphasizing the Robin Hood mentality of taking from the rich and giving to the poor (even when the “rich” weren’t actually rich and the “poor” were just other gangsters).
That said, it’s been a while since I saw a movie that managed to combine the reality of what gangsters do to their surrounding community while still showing us the personal nature of said gangsters. And likewise, it’s rare that a movie manages to do that while still holding on to the vigilante, us-against-the-world mentality that viewers seem to crave so much.
Which is exactly what Rob the Mob manages to do.
Rob the Mob fictionalizes the true story of Tommy and Rosie Uva, a couple madly in love and co-existing in 1992 NYC during the height of the John Gotti trials. Tommy–played by Michael Pitt (Funny Games, Boardwalk Empire)–has recently finished with an 18 month stint in prison when we meet him, and he’s haunted by memories of his father’s interactions with the mob when he was a kid. Combine this with his attendance at the trial of Gotti–particularly during the infamous Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano’s testimonies in which Gravano divulged (amongst other facts) the names and addresses of the mob’s social clubs–and Tommy is suddenly struck with an idea borne of both vengeance and opportunistic greed: let’s rob the mob (hahahahaha that’s the title! …Sorry)
The plot itself is interesting, especially considering this is based on a true story and this modern day Bonnie and Clyde’s method of burglary was so foolhardy as to be supremely entertaining (at one point in the film the audience is notified–after witnessing Tommy ineptly waving an uzi around multiple times with no mask or any attempts at hiding his identity–that our protagonists Tommy and Rosie live three blocks from one of the clubs they’ve robbed).
But it’s the acting that really gives this movie a lasting effect. Pitt’s been here before–watch Murder By Numbers with Sandra Bullock to see him play a particularly sadistic teenager–but never in a role like this, with this much power over the viewer’s perception of his character. And in that portrayal he’s stellar, oozing a manic yet quasi-innocent personality type that makes you want to like him even as you’re cringing at his stupidity in the face of the most notorious criminal organization in the country.
But it’s Tommy’s girlfriend Rosie that really steals the show; played by Nina Arianda–who’s making the jump from Broadway to film for the first time after winning a Best Actress Tony Award for her portrayal of Vanda in Venus in Fur–Rosie manages to be both lovable and vulgar, innocent and sadistic, loyal to a fault and ready to roll with the punches.
Aside from the main roles, we also get a particularly despondent and sympathetic performance from Ray Romano as reporter Jerry Cardozo, and the typical simmering furiosity we all expect from Andy Garcia as Big Al, head of the slighted crime family.
Raymond De Felitta’s handling of the material is as straight-forward a directing job as I’ve seen in a while, giving the audience enough time and space from beginning to end to to judge the unfolding events for ourselves, and the result is a tension that consistently rises from the moment you realize what this couple’s trying to do, creating a conflict in viewers between our expectations of how the Mafia would/should react in this situation and our inevitable rooting for this couple’s success. The climactic end–which stands pretty much as an exclamation point on the entire era of both 90′s mob films and the real life events that inspired them–is done so tastefully, with such a consistent emphasis on this couple’s passionate relationship, that walking out of the theater I was actually warmed, in spite of myself (you’ll understand why when you see it, which you should do ASAP).
Rob the Mob is out now, though in a limited release (which explains why I had to drive half an hour to get to the only theater in Miami showing it). But if you have the time and there’s a participating theater relatively nearby–and especially if you’re a fan of mob films and Scorcese-esque dialogue–definitely check it out.
Buy Quarter Life Crisis: A Novel on August 5th. You’ll regret it a little bit less than what you did last weekend.