From the Archives: Mafia Inc. review

From the Archives: Mafia Inc. review

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.

Originally posted on MovieJawn.

When I think of the mob, I think of the mob that has been exhibited to me through the lens of Hollywood. Usually it’s a mix of old world Italian culture with a mean streak of New Jersey/New York attitude pulsing through it. Everyone speaks in a mix of Italian and English, while incorrectly referring to sauce as “gravy” and demanding that it be stirred at regular intervals (and if you don’t, Nonna will hit you with the spoon). This is usually punctuated with fits of shocking violence enacted between moments of declaration that family is the most important thing (which is why we had to kill a family member who didn’t act like family).

Mafia Inc. delivers on a lot of these tropes, but also opened my eyes to a brand new flavor of the mob that, had I given it any thought at all, would seem obvious to exist: the Canadian-Sicilian mafia. That’s probably not the right term, but I’m no historian. Mafia Inc. follows the incredibly violent and turbulent existence of the Paterno family, whose reign in the early-to-mid 90s was as storied and wild as anything the beloved(?) Corleones got up to. And since it’s in Canada, they got up to it while speaking a mix of English, Italian, and French that was simply delightful to listen to for a few hours.

Is Mafia Inc. a true story? Yes and no. The film is based on the non-fiction novel Mafia Inc.: The Long, Bloody Reign of Canada’s Sicilian Clan, which tells the story of the Rizzuto family’s violent rise to power, and the double crosses and infighting that brought them down. The filmed version substitutes the Paternos for the Rizzutos and uses elements of truth to mine a thematically rich, intensely cinematic story from the source material. So no, the Paternos are not necessarily real, nor is the story we see, but this is exactly the kind of crazy shit that went down in the real world. And let me tell you, it’s pretty durn crazy.

We follow two interconnected tales of many members of the Paterno family, as well as of the Gamache family. The latter are not mafia, but their family’s business is a tailor shop—one that the Paternos have sworn by for generations. Papa Gamache isn’t so fond of this connection, but both of his children are tied tighter to the Paterno clan than he, so there’s not much he can do. Meanwhile, the “godfather” of the Paterno family is looking to go legit (and if I may add, he looks EXACTLY as if Dustin Hoffman, Peter Sellers, and John Turturro somehow had an adult child). He’s getting up there in years, and he’d love for his legacy to be one not so stained in red. His plan is simple, but also quite complex: generously share his influence and its spoils with other gang entities in an effort to forge a lasting peace, while also investing in a massive bridge building project in Sicily. This is the kind of deal that would make multiple subsequent generations of the family quite rich, and effectively cement the Paterno name into an more altruistic historical niche of national history.

It’s a win win, except for the fact that it’s all built on a foundation of evil, disloyalty, and fear. Ya know, because crime.

At over two hours there is a lot of movie here, but none of it feels like dead weight. The film trusts the audience to follow along (don’t worry, it’s complex, not cryptic), and allows for plot revelations to occur through character interactions and the slow building of dramatic irony. Such a thing is typically essential for mob movies, given that the nature of the business is one of “need to know.” And since we in the audience always need to know, we are often a few steps ahead of certain characters. This leads to a lot of seemingly innocent, totally loaded moments, as well as a few really upsetting moments of dread and pity. It also occasionally puts us on the wonderful position of waiting for a real monster to get his just desserts…

Director Daniel Grou keeps the proceedings at an incredibly high energy for the entirety of the runtime. Even the lower key moments have a smolder to them that fits the material wonderfully. On a scene by scene basis as well, we can see some serious craft. A gruesome reveal of torture in the middle of a meat processing plant stands out. It’s shot like a slasher movie, but also has the disturbing, morose humor that the best mob pictures tend to work with. None of it would work, however, if Grou didn’t find the perfect tone. Luckily for us (and not our stomachs) the tone is right where it needs to be. This management of tone has as much to do with the performances as it does with the geography of the scene, and it’s just one of many sequences that require such tact. Just make sure if you go to Dino’s over the next week or so, maybe don’t order the sausage.

Another sequence, in which a busload of children is nudged of of a cliff (for reasons I won’t get into) is just as impeccably assembled. The script, adapted here by Sylvain Guy, cleverly avoids giving context for such an event until much later in the film, at which point it packs a wallop. Same goes for even the less bombastic moments—the dialogue sizzles while the camera intuitively knows exactly where to guide your eye.

There are a few moments where the film loses its edge, typically during unneeded exposition. Since most of the film outright refuses to walk the viewer through the steps, instead correctly trusting them to follow along, the instances of explicit exposition feel unnecessary. Even so, the overall pace is managed so well that these speed bumps are few and far between and easy to forgive.

All in all, if you’re a fan of mob movies, Mafia Inc. will surely excite you as it did me, and will do so in a flavor I’ve not seen depicted in American cinema. It achieves a label that its characters struggle to: It’s totally legit.

Bonus: I let my Shazam app run for the entirety of the movie. Much like the gangster flicks of Marty Scorsese, the needle-drops in Mafia Inc. are frequent and fantastic!

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