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Best known for his character-stocked comedy City Island, director Raymond De Felitta returns after five years with a tighter, more mature film in Rob the Mob. It is nice to see Michael Pitt away from the New Jersey Boardwalk, and he plays ne'er-do-well Tommy Uva, a small-time crook who enlists girlfriend Rosie (Nina Arianda) for a dangerous, scarcely thought out plan to rob the social clubs of local mobsters. Shot with the nostalgic rose glow of a career director, Rob the Mob represents an improvement in storytelling and technical savvy for De Felitta. The film works because Pitt and Arianda pal around like old pros, quickly landing in the audience's good graces despite their characters' frequently questionable decisions. Rob the Mob recalls early Scorsese; Pitt a young Robert De Niro. There is enough humor and human drama here to fill the film's 104 minutes, and I look forward to De Felitta's next project.
The film opens on Tommy and Rosie attempting to rob a florist on Valentine's day. Hearts break as Tommy is hauled to jail and a screaming Rosie is removed from the courtroom. Rosie joins a debt collection agency while Tommy is locked up, and manages to secure him a job upon his release. Rosie is brash and confrontational when collecting dues, but Tommy remains calm and collected. Each vows to quit using drugs and give up crime, but Tommy proposes a last hurrah of sorts after sitting in on the trial of a John Gotti underling. He overhears testimony revealing the locations of secret mobster speakeasies and purposely stumbles inside to gauge the clientele. He quickly begins knocking over the hangouts upon discovering that there is more spaghetti and booze than guns and security.
Pitt and Arianda are quite the duo. Pitt is decidedly less dour here than in Jimmy Darmody's shoes, and Arianda is a ray of sunshine. The opening reel is kind of a fake out, as I assumed the movie was moving toward a unpleasant unraveling of a broken, drug-addled couple not long for this world. Instead, Rob the Mob takes an enjoyably lighthearted turn into comedic waters as Tommy gets more brazen and Rosie begins to enjoy the public lauding over the robberies. There's drama here, sure, but the violence never becomes oppressive despite the tragic, real-world backstory that inspired the film. The mob is not happy about these crimes for several reasons, not the least of which is that authorities are tipped off to further illegal activity that threatens to sink the "Teflon Don" Gotti and his associates.
Ray Romano gives a nice, understated performance as a newspaper man searching for a story. His Jerry Cardoza has worked the beat for years and has a number of confidential sources in both the FBI and the crime families. He gets in contact with Rosie, who is more than happy to speak with him at length about her motivations and history. Andy Garcia is similarly strong as "Big Al," a longtime mob affiliate with a tragic connection to organized crime. Cathy Moriarty makes an unexpected but memorable appearance as Tommy's long-suffering mother, who is none too impressed with his wads of dirty cash and rap sheet. Rob the Mob is a minor triumph for De Felitta, as the narrative is tight and drama nicely composed. I hope this film will find an audience on Blu-ray.
The 1.78:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer unspools on a single-layer disc but retains strong clarity and texture. The image is apparently cropped from the theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and I noticed a couple of instances where objects and people at the left and right extremes of the frame hung onto the screen for dear life. Otherwise, contrast is usually good, though I noticed some purposely blown-out highlights. Depth is reasonably impressive, and I saw no major instances of noise reduction or edge halos.
The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD mix is mostly front-loaded, with clean if slightly low dialogue levels. After a slight volume increase, conversation is crystal clear and mixed nicely with the ambient effects of New York City and a couple of infrequent action effects that rumble the subwoofer. An English 2.0 Dolby Digital mix is also included, as are English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release arrives in a standard Blu-ray case, which is wrapped in a matching slipcover. Extras include an informative Audio Commentary by Raymond De Felitta; a couple of Deleted Scenes (17:50 total/HD); and a few bonus previews.
I had initial reservations, but Raymond De Felitta's Rob the Mob turns out to be a highly enjoyable crime drama with comedic elements. Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda are excellent as a misdemeanor-prone couple that decides to knock over mob speakeasies. A strong supporting cast includes Ray Romano, Andy Garcia and Cathy Moriarty. There is plenty of humor and human drama here, and De Felitta handles the real-life story with the ease of a pro. Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.