Mobsters on the other hand weren’t so keen on “Married to the Mob.” It was a darkly funny movie that made them look more like a gang that couldn’t shoot straight. They won’t be too keen on “Rob the Mob” either.
It isn’t just that “Rob the Mob” is funny or that the true-life events depicted, even some 23 years later, make them look like buffoons. The real irritant, I suspect, will be that it’s a sad commentary on what the mob is really like. This may in fact be one of the most realistic and honest accounts of the Mafia ever put on film.
Written by Jonathan Fernandez and directed by Raymond De Felitta, the movie portrays real events that in lesser hands might have yielded an okay dark comedy.
You know, about a couple of nitwits who momentarily outsmarted the Mafia by doing as the title suggests. But these filmmakers instead counterbalance the comedy with a gritty, unsexy reality.
That reality takes place on mean streets inhabited by foot shoulders and in the swank residents of bosses as well as a staid New York City courtroom where a final act of betrayal takes place. It’s as sobering as the Bonnie-and-Clyde antics of a reckless couple are ridiculously funny.
First the facts: in 1991 an audacious couple named Thomas and Rosemarie Uva acted on the seemingly idiotic idea of sticking up Mafia social clubs around New York when they realized that no one carried guns into those joints. Usually there was a sizable amount of cash sitting on card tables or in the bar till just waiting for someone foolish enough to rob the mob.
At this same time — and to a large degree the thing that inspired the crime spree — Mafia hit man Sammy “The Bull” Gravano was giving graphic, hypnotic testimony in a courtroom that would bring down Gambino-family boss John Gotti.
Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda play Tommy and Rosie, first glimpsed getting caught robbing a florist on Valentine’s Day. By the time Tommy gets out of stir, Rosie has gone straight: She works at a debt collection agency and there’s something about her Queens accent and attitude that makes her very good at her job.
She gets Tommy a job working there too for her easy-going, pep-speech-prone boss, Dave Lovell (Griffin Dunne). But Tommy soon gets diverted by the Gotti trial, even skipping work to attend sessions.
Tommy blames the mob for his father’s difficulties in operating a small business. He even saw a bunch of goons once beat up his old man.
You realize even sooner that for all their red-hot passion, Tommy and Rosie are bad for each other: Together, as a couple, they make decisions that would give the “Dumb and Dumber” characters a run for their money.
When Tommy hears about the social clubs at trial, he gets his brainstorm. The robberies are comic nightmares of fumbled firearms, a malfunctioning getaway car and Rosie objections to Tommy using new bedclothes for disguises. There are comic touches that wouldn’t be out of place in “American Hustle.”
Pitt and Arianda nail these two so well you react to them less as characters in fiction than real-life individuals whom you want to shake awake: Are you nuts? If you’re from the streets, how can you be so delusional to think this scheme might work?
The actors are alive inside their roles, searching every inch of their characters for idiosyncrasies, nervous habits and attitudes that explain this incredible foolishness. Never are they judgmental; they go with the non-cerebral flow
Fernandez and De Felitta too have a broad agenda. The robberies enrage the Bonanno crime family, which brings into the movie a fascinating character, its head honcho, Big Al (Andy Garcia, unrecognizable in flowing salt-and-pepper beard and hair).
This is a new kind of gangster boss for an American movie. A man whose passion is food and whose sole aim in life was to support his family by running a restaurant, Al got sucked into the world of crime. He obviously had talent for it but now, as a grandfather, wonders about the choices of his youth.
Then the unthinkable happens: At a social club Tommy jacks, he winds up getting a wallet from an aging capo. This contains the Holy Grail for the FBI — an entire organizational chart of the Family with ranks, phone numbers and addresses.
Not only does this smoking gun turn the organization upside down but a crime reporter (Ray Romano), the FBI and Big Al all realize this could be the undoing of the Bonanno family. And the clock on Tommy and Rosie’s lives starts ticking.
Thus “Rob the Mod” deftly balances comic moments with a slice-of-mob-life: These guys are tough as nails and sometimes as stupid as nails too. They have created a fantasy world of social clubs, macho b.s. and “Omerta” that is almost its own kind of prison. Only the one who realizes this most keenly is none other than Big Al.
What kind of a life is this? His house is bugged, so he must communicate by drawing letters in spaghetti sauce. He has never recovered from losing a son to the violence that is part of his business and now, with a life sentence possibly looming, he might lose his grandson as well.
In the film’s portrayal of these Mafia capos, soldiers and bosses, they are all weary, tradition-bound, self-delusional jerks. Their only recourse is violence and that has its limits. It’s effective until it’s no longer effective.
Who would have thought that the guy would carry that organizational chart in his wallet? Or that some idiot would stick up a made man? Or — well, thinking is not a mobster’s strong suit.
“Rob the Mob” is funny and entertaining, giving a viewer a great collection of characters from top to bottom and telling a jaw-dropping tale so outrageous it can only be true. It goes about its business quietly though without the gun play, tough-guy bits and sexed-up sequences typical of gangster movies.
You can only shake your head afterwards. The mob never looked less glamorous.
No, Big Al not to mention Little Louie and Joe the Fish won’t like this movie one bit. But you might.
Opens: March 21, 2014 New York (Millennium Entertainment)
Production companies: A William Tietler production in association with William Kay
Cast: Michael Pitt, Nina Arianda, Ray Romano, Andy Garcia, Michael Rispoli, Samira Wiley, Cathy Moriarty, Griffin Dunne, Yul Vazquez, Burt Young, Aida Turturro
Director: Raymond De Felitta
Screenwriter: Jonathan Fernandez
Producer: William Tietler
Executive producer: William Kay, Jonathan Frnandez, Michael Pitt, Andy Garcia, Raymond De Felitta
Director of photography: Christopher Norr
Production designer: Carlos A. Menéndez
Music: Stephen Endelman
Costume designer: Tere Duncan
Editor: David Leonard
No rating, 104 minutes