If you’re a director with a respected Hollywood name like Martin Scorcese, optioning and making hit gangster films is all well and good, but what do you do if you’re an unknown director with actual underworld contacts? The answer comes in the form of a half-hour of hidden faces and mob anecdotes told by the folks who grew up and lived among the colorful characters dramatized in movies like “Casino” and “Donnie Brasco”.
Alexandre spends time with a handful of acquaintances, each of whom has a handful of names to drop and stories to tell. Unfortunately, the names of the real-life gangland players in question were changed for the big screen by writers to protect the innocent (or maybe just as a matter of dramatic license). Maybe I have a bad head for names, but I have to admit that I had a hard time matching real names with fictional characters and keeping them straight. Mafia geeks who memorize these sort of details as a hobby will probably consider this short piece entertaining at worst and an important historical document at best. Those of us who haven’t seen “Casino” since its theatrical run might be considerably more confused.
Most of the stories are interesting, and even the grainy, slow motion reenactments are not entirely misplaced, but the director, who was apparently not satisfied with his subjects’ ability to entrance the audience, felt the need to get into the act. In between interviews, Alexandre himself walks through his gloomy locations talking to the camera like a portly A.J. Benza. At one point he cuts to a candid conversation vaguely suggesting that the wrong people have taken notice of his probing camera and that he himself is in danger. Huh? The only way this dubious scenario makes sense is if the wiseguys depicted in the big Hollywood dramatizations were so frustrated by their uncompensated portrayals that they decided to blow off a little steam and bump off the next low-profile filmmaker that came to town. This sort of celebratory self-exploitation is mildly amusing, but tends to undermine our ability to take the rest of the documentary material seriously.