Film Review – Rob the Mob
Rob the Mob
Everything you need to know about the protagonists of Rob the Mob (2014) happens in the opening scene. Tommy (Michael Pitt) and Rosie (Nina Arianda) drive up to a flower shop on Valentine’s Day. The two share a kiss, Tommy gets out and enters the shop, with the intent of robbing it. A few minutes later, he comes barging through the front door, with the register clerk wielding a shotgun trying to blow his head off. Rosie lets out a scream, worried about her boyfriend’s safety. Suddenly, she notices him carrying a bouquet of roses in his hand. “Baby!” she cries out in delight, “You got me flowers?!”
That immediately tells us what kind of people we’re dealing with. Directed by Raymond De Felitta and written by Jonathan Fernandez, Rob the Mob is the story of two lovers who are clearly a few eggs short of a baker’s dozen. Based on a true story, the narrative follows them through a string of robberies in New York City in 1992. The catch involves whom they are stealing from. Tommy and Rosie don’t target innocent victims, but members of the local mafia. They justify it by believing that since those wise guys are criminals to begin with, no one will care if they lose their money. In fact, the mob deserves to be stolen from – robbing them can be seen as a public service. How thoughtful.
The best kinds of crime/gangster films are those that are self-contained. We are never let out of the inner circle to see the effect criminals have on society as a whole. They have their own twisted sense of morality, and the fascination is in witnessing them operate based on that code. With Tommy and Rosie, that is never felt. Early on, we realize they are not all together mentally, to the point of being near sociopaths. They’re head over heels for each other, but have little regard for anyone else. Working a day job (at a collection agency) is just a time killer for what they really want to do, and that’s take money from the bad guys. A journalist (Ray Romano, an interesting casting choice) labels them as a New York version of Bonnie and Clyde. But while that duo became legends of The Depression era, Tommy and Rosie acted because they’re unhinged dimwits. Not so much “heroes” for the underprivileged, but vigilantes harboring their own agenda.
They’re painted with contradictions, which at times actually work well. Tommy in particular: we learn about his childhood, his father broken by the very hoods he’s robbing now, and the toll his troubles have had on his family. De Felitta captures these emotions with flashbacks, photographed to resemble old home movies. The effect is strongest during these sequences, the grainy images recalling happier times for poor Tommy. But it doesn’t last long as he soon constructs his plan to take down the mob. Using information he’s gathered attending the famous John Gotti case, Tommy and Rosie stake out well-known gangster clubs. Their robberies are messy, unorganized, and often immature as Tommy forces the thugs to strip and mimic humiliating sexual acts to his delight. The transition between his youth and adulthood don’t hold together in a cohesive fashion. Yes, he’s had a bad childhood, but does that mean he should grab an Uzi and go on a major crime spree?
I’m not sure if Andy Garcia’s portrayal of mob boss “Big Al” was the result of what was written or his own improvisations, but what ends up on screen is a character displaying every stereotype in the mob boss handbook. Think of any crime boss you’ve seen in any movie, Big Al is an amalgamation of all of them. He teaches his grandson about ethics, goes fishing, cooks Italian meals, maintains a garden, plays chess, and goes on soliloquies about coming up and earning “respect.” By the time the FBI questions him – while working in a meat shop no less – I started to think this was less a sincere performance and more a tongue in cheek satire. It must be, as he generates little interest as a unique individual. When Tommy and Rose’s antics cut too deep, Big Al calls a meeting, with his foot soldiers lining up in military fashion. For a group trained so well to be obedient, they’re sure incompetent to let two idiots get the better of them.
Are we supposed to root for Tommy and Rosie? Rob the Mob appears to want that. Despite their actions directly causing authorities to land major busts, it comes only as an oddly timed coincidence. Not once did I find myself siding with them. In fact, I felt more sorry that they weren’t smart enough to do something more productive (and less illegal) with their time. Even when they’re warned that danger is on their tails, they ignore it because…well…that’s just how they are. Their fates aren’t profound or moving, but are the consequences of their decisions. Decisions they knew were dumb, but went ahead and made anyway.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQR2sEdqBDk&w=560&h=315]