Rob the Mob
Based on the true story of two of the most recklessly naïve criminals in New York history, "Rob the Mob" is a routine crime drama bolstered by its two lead performances, but is ultimately too bland and forgettable to make any lasting impact.
The film is set in 1991, when the trial of the Gambino family crime boss, John Gotti, took the city by storm. Michael Pitt (of "Boardwalk Empire" fame) and Nina Arianda (who recently won a Tony Award for her work in the stage production of "Venus in Fur") star as Tommy Uva and Rosie, a couple that begins to work for a debt-collection agency after serving jail time for robbing a florist on Valentine’s Day. After receiving abysmal paychecks from their place of employment that don’t even begin to cover rent and other necessities, they decide to stick up underground Mafia clubs after Tommy learns that guns are never allowed inside the premises of the various buildings.
The dopey, but passionately romantic, duo surprisingly pulls off a series of successful burglaries, but not without drawing attention to themselves from the mob, the FBI and the media in the process.
While it’s a wildly uneven film that treads through familiar territory, "Rob the Mob" certainly has its moments, particularly during its various heist sequences.
Pitt, who’s played equally dimwitted criminals in "Bully" and even more sinister ones in Michael Haneke’s American remake of his Austrian thriller, "Funny Games," (2008) proves that he still has a knack for handling darkly comedic material in these scenes, in which his character is as nervously sloppy as he is seriously determined. Wielding his weapon as clumsily as a toddler who’s just gotten hold of his first water gun, Pitt allows us to laugh at Tommy without his ever losing our sympathy, mainly because we as viewers acknowledge how awkwardly terrifying it would be to commit a robbery against a group of experienced gangsters.
The real standout, though, is Nina Arianda as Rosie, who is not only the heart of the film, but also delivers the most inspired performance out of its talented ensemble. Her comic timing is impeccable, her pathos is always genuine and her character is never anything less than fascinating. There’s an array of talent on display here, but Arianda truly steals the show in "Rob the Mob," and truly deserves to be a star as much on screen as she is on stage.
Unfortunately, when the film shifts its focus to its supporting characters, such as
Andy Garcia as Big Al, the head of the Gambino family, the film feels all too safe and conventional. For the supposed "antagonist" of the film, Garcia oddly gets more sentimental scenes than the film’s heroes, often involving his all too precocious grandson who "wants to be just like [his grandfather]" when he grows up, but is given many mushy-gushy speeches on how he’ll "hear bad things about his grandfather" as he grows up.
Equally blunt is the characterization of journalist Jerry Cordozo, played, oddly enough, by Ray Romano, who wants to tell Tommy and Rosie’s story, but realizes that he’s accidentally exploited them once his piece gives the F.B.I. and the mafia too much information. This results in Romano delivering the film’s most heavy-handed speeches, including one in which he states that the F.B.I. is "worse" than the mafia because they "at least know where they stand" and defends the notorious couple as heroes of the city. Good grief!
Oh, and don’t even get me started on Stephen Endelman’s score. If it was used sparingly, it could have been an effective way to convey the emotional poignancy of its material. However, since it’s used in just about every other scene (and primarily every scene in which Garcia is on-screen) it becomes overtly manipulative and obnoxious.
It also acts as a safety net for what the film is most afraid of having, but so desperately needs: A sense of edge. While Pitt and Arianda are highly compelling as the leads, and the film’s depictions of their various robberies are effectively played for pitch-black humor, there is still an abundant lack of danger. Even though the film is based on a story full of real-life consequences, there’s never a convincing sense of menace for our anti-heroes, which is a pivotal flaw when it comes to translating a true-crime story to the big screen.
Directed by Raymond De Felitta ("City Island") and written by Jonathan Ferdandez ("Crisis in the Kremlin"), "Rob the Mob" is far from a terrible film, and certainly has its moments, but ultimately feels like a made-for-TV movie that’s elevated by the strong performances from its talented cast. It’s probably best to wait for this film to play on your local cable network, ’cause it’s the kind of picture you’d feel better about watching on a Sunday afternoon with a bottle of beer than paying twelve bucks and hiring a babysitter, and you won’t feel as ripped off, either.