This ’90s-set Bonnie and Clyde lunatic love story, in which a couple of ex-con young punks start robbing mafia social clubs after realising that going straight doesn’t pay too well might be a based on a true story, but that’s really just an excuse for us to spend some quality time with two people who are truly, deeply and madly into one another. A truer romance than that of another pair of ’90s criminals, Rob the Mob has all the intensity of the unconventional amour between Clarence Worley and Alabama Whitman.
That the film works as well as the Tony Scott cult classic is down to Sheila Jaffe’s lightning-in-a-bottle casting and a pair of impossible to resist performances from Michael Pitt (dream big charm) and Nina Arianda (streetwise smarts and sexuality). In their combative, tough love tiffs, these two work up a charged chemistry so palatable, it’s always on the edge of them jumping each other’s bones.
Nina Arianda, who up till now has really stood out in almost everything she’s appeared in (check her out in Vera Farmiga’s Higher Ground) deserves to be as big a movie star as she is on Broadway after her firecracker performance as tough-talking, whip smart, Rosie, a cigar-chomping girl from Queens whose bullshit detector is always flashing red. Rob the Mob may not be the film to break her out, but more than likely it had something to do with her landing the role of Janis Joplin in the upcoming Sean Durkin biopic that should deservedly put her in the big leagues. Till then, verbally adroit Rosie is a dream role for Arianda, who has a real technical facility with language and certainly knows how to run her mouth. During incidental scenes of Rosie on the phone in her day job as a debt collector, Arianda talks up such a storm, it’s clear she’d have no problem running with or going up against the guys of Glengarry Glen Ross.
And while the film would still come recommended and just as easily have held our attention by coasting on the performances of its two leads, it’s the contrasting subtly of Ray Romano as a conscious-ridden reporter covering the couple’s crime wave, and Andy Garcia as the reluctant, regretful mob boss passing on recipes and life lessons to his grandson, that give the film added dimension and depth. In these dialled down scenes, once appreciates the beautiful tonal balance of Jonathan Fernandez’s script, the sensitive direction from Raymond De Felitta (Two Family House), and in the case of Garcia, a couple of sublimely affecting soliloquies. De Felitta it must be said, is one of the most consistently great and under-valued, directors in the business and what he gets out of his ensemble here is as good as what he achieved in City Island, his over-looked, 2009 rom-com that had Garcia in the lead.
The mid point of the year is traditionally a time of talking up the top films of the last six months, but also a time to consider worthy titles that have flown under the radar. For those who seek it out, Rob the Mob will be one of the biggest surprises of 2014, and also one of its best.
First published by Vérité Film Magazine on June 28, 2014