And I’m back! Happy New Year to all of you! Let’s start the year with the nice review for Mob City! Let’s get on with it. For what I did or didn’t do during my holidays, you’ll have to wait fo this Sunday’s Attic Cleanup!
Mob City is Frank Darabont’s new project, after his departure from AMC’s hit series, The Walking Dead, set in 1947 and based on real-life events and the lives of both criminals and the police, as chronicled in the 2010 non-fiction book L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City, by John Buntin. Originally titled L.A. Noir after the book, the title changed to the current one due to similarities with Rockstar’s fantastic game L.A. Noire.
While the series is set in 1947, the opening scene is actually 20 years before, on the night three of the characters make a name for themselves, two of them being highly important in the plot and the last one just showing up near the end of the series’ 6-episode run; they are Ben “Bugsy” Siegel, Sid Rothman and Meyer Lansky, the first and the last being very famous in USA’s criminal history. Siegel, as the narrator of the series describes, “is the man that invented Las Vegas”, and Lansky was the “Mob’s Accountant” and one of the men behind the National Crime Syndicate, of which Siegel was also a member.
The short, mini-series formatted season tells the story of Hecky Nash’s (Shaun of the Dead’s Simon Pegg) attempted blackmail of Bugsy Siegel, having compromising photos of the man; photos that could mean the end for his criminal career and empire. The first episode focuses on the meet between Nash, and his bodyguard, L.A. Detective Joe Teague (Jon Bernthal – Shane on The Walking Dead), and Bugsy’s men, and the importance of the evidence Nash holds to the men on both sides of the fence, Police and Bugsy’s people. The rest of the episodes deal with the aftermath and other events occurring in the following weeks, though the blackmail and the evidence never stop being central to the plot. Sadly, with such a tight episode count, anything else I say might some of the nice surprises the series has in store for you, so I’ll just leave it here and let’s move on!
With such a small number of episodes, the pacing has to be spot on to both keep the audience intrigued and never let it grow dull or even too intense, and I’m happy to say Mob City pulls it off fantastically, with each episode leaving you wanting more, even on the more “charged” episodes.
The writing is also spot on, with plenty of hard-boiled lines straight out of a Raymond Chandler novel that never come off as cliché or cheesy, and will often remind you of the classics in the genre. If you play the series in black & white, you can almost believe it’s from the era of Film Noir’s height, which I think is the series’ greatest accomplishment.
As this is a “period drama”, special mention has to be made for sets, locations and costume design, which can make or break a series, especially one made in periods like this one, with particular and well-known styles and any miss can be easily spotted. The team behind Mob City have done a fantastic job in bringing you to 1940s Los Angeles. In all regards, from undergarments to vehicles, the series is perfect. The different clubs the characters frequent, their homes and offices even have all the touches and whistles and horns you expect in your mind’s eye when you think of the era. The suits are crisp, the ties are sober or outrageous depending on the character, but not only are they era-appropriate, but they also match the characters perfectly, adding eve more personality to the already powerful performances.
Beyond the sets, and the costume design, the Noir genre has some very unique and easily identifiable aesthetics, from the clever use of shadows, for example to obscure a character’s profile with a gaudy neon sign in the background, and Mob City not only delivers it on every episode, but the opening sequence itself is filled with those moments. There’s the neon behind curtains of smoke, the eyes in the dark, the sexy songstresses and waitresses, the hardboiled protagonists; the whole noir package.
On the acting, the cast is amazing, even if all the characters aren’t really likeable, though you’ll hate them because of who they are (which means a lot more since they’re based on real people) and not because of how good or bad their portrayal is. Bugsy (Edward Burns – Saving Private Ryan), for example, is the character I like the least, because of his impulsiveness and violent tendencies, though the portrayal does give him some moments where he’s the restrained one, which offers a nice contrast between the characters. Milo Ventimiglia’s Ned Stax is my favourite character, not only the mob’s lawyer, sly manipulator and even honest friend, but also the narrator for the whole show, providing the exposition and backstory on many of the characters and events. Robert Knepper, better known as T-Bag in Prison Break, and a man who can’t seem to land a good-guy role, plays yet another villain as Sid Rothman, mob muscle and hitman for Bugsy Siegel, and once again, he’s brilliant at it. Finishing up the opening scene’s trio is Patrick Fischler as Meyer Lansky, and I just love Fischler in any character he plays, and his nasal-esque voice is unmistakeable. Interestingly enough, Fischler played Mickey Cohen in Rockstar’s L.A. Noire, but he can’t play more than one role in this series, so the honor of being Cohen fell to Jeremy Luke, who portrays the gangster perfectly and funnily enough, even has the same stocky build as Cohen had.
You can’t have a Noir film without Femmes and Dames, in this case Alexa Davalos (Kyra in the Director’s Cut of Chronicles of Riddick) and Mekia Cox (J.J. Abram’s short-lived UnderCovers) respectively, the former as Jasmine Fontaine (the “most Noir” name ever), Hackey Nash’s girlfriend, who’s also directly involved and related to Detective Joe Teague; and the latter as Anya, the sexy bartender at one of Bunny’s (Ernie Hudson) establishments. She provides the gratuitous flirting every episode needs to lift the mood from the, quite frankly, “crap-sack world”
On the side of the angels, aka the Good Cops, and not the massively corrupt ones, there are two worth mentioning, because they play really honest good guys, when I’ve always seen them as villains, so their performances were really surprising. First up is Gregory Itzin, who I just saw as the despicable Henry Wilcox in Covert Affairs, but here plays the straight-arrowed Fletcher Brown, Mayor of the City of Los Angeles. It was the same with Neal McDonough (Band of Brothers), whose characters I’ve learned to hate over the years, here plays William H. Parker, the man who sets up the taskforce most of the police characters we see are a part of, including protagonist Joe Teague, and is a man of honour and conviction, against any and all forms of crime and corruption.
Overall the plot is very strong and ties together historic events with its narrative, and while the season’s last episode is open ended in that it sets things up for a future season, it has the honor of not ending in a cliffhanger, which seems to be the way to go nowadays. Characters die or live through the ordeal and not hanging by the thread until the eventual 2nd season, and for that, I’m thankful.
The Mental Attic Score: Worthy Having. With fantastic plot, characters, design and aesthetics, the series brings new life and a new workable format for the Film Noir genre and for that, it’s worth acquiring as soon as a DVD is released. For more information on the review system, click here!