This short review appeared on The Upcoming website here.
Rob the Mob is being mis-sold. It is not nearly as irritating as its trailer and its title would suggest. It is a much more sombre film than the Tarantino-style comic violence trappings of the fraudulent trailer. Weirdly enough for a gangster film with a bit of a comic edge, there are no stereotypes and if the characters are not particularly likeable then they are at least interesting and believable.
Set in 1991, Tommy and Rosie (Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda) are two small time hoods who want to start anew after Tommy gets out of jail for robbing a flower shop. However, life on the straight and narrow is too slow and depressing for their needs. Tommy wanders into the trial of John Gotti and picks up on one salient detail – that mobsters don’t carry guns in their social clubs – and decides to rob the mob. Amazingly, he and Rosie survive but after one robbery too many, they find themselves caught between the mob (led by Andy Garcia) and the FBI, with only crusading journalist Jerry Cardozo (Ray Romano) to help them out.
Though based on a true story, this film ought to be sleazy, exploitative and cynical, but it actually seems to care about its characters. The film takes the time to establish Tommy and Rosie’s relationship and their characters – as well as their attempts at more legitimate work – before they even have the idea to rob the mob. Not only that, but the film is surprisingly balanced on most other characters. Andy Garcia’s Big Al is a credible threat but he is also given a nice little moment in which he monologues about how inevitable his descent into a life of crime was. The film maintains an interesting dialogue between the pros and cons of leading a legal but meagre existence compared to a dangerous and criminal but plentiful one – which one can take or leave.
It is not a flawless film. It has a tendency to over-sentimentalise – one scene between Big Al and his innocent grandson is particularly poor – and the ending is flubbed. However, the cast is very good and the writing is generally pretty good and it takes the time to make you care about these outsiders. Thoroughly entertaining though hardly flawless, Rob the Mob is a pleasant surprise.