Fear City: New York vs The Mafia is a docu-series directed by Sam Hobkinson.
The series is divided into three parts – Mob Rule, The Godfather Tapes and Judgment Day. It is about New York City’s five mafia families: Gambino, Colombo, Bonanno, Lucchese, and Genoveseand how the FBI and law enforcement officers worked day and night for years to bring these people to justice.
As someone who had no idea about the mafia problems in New York in the ‘70s, this has been a thrilling watch. The series gives a thorough detail into the mafia rule in New York for decades and how the FBI used the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act to bring the criminals to justice.
The mob, during that time, wasn’t just another loose cannon during the ‘70s. it was a very well-knit criminal organisation where the bosses of the five families had their own understanding and took big decisions together. It was called The Commission, and the FBI quickly realised that bringing it down was the only way the city can be rid of its violence.
Unlike other mafia stories, director Sam Hobkinson said that he wanted the perspective of the law enforcement officers to count in his retelling. “Most mafia stories are told from the perspective of the mobsters,” Hobkinson, told the Guardian. “We wanted to tell our story from the perspective of law enforcement.”
The setting is as fitting as the people giving the interviews. There are no narrators, and the people involved with the whole operation narrate their part of the story sitting in boxing rings or swanky offices. There’s a general air of mystery and suspense, with original recordings from the wiretaps, news footage and gruesome images intercutting their narration.
It goes on to show how much the mafia had a hold over almost everything in New York and for how long. And it’s not just illegal activities like prostitution or drug trafficking. These guys were also into legitimate businesses like construction and restaurants. As a result, they were making billions of dollars’ worth of money from them.
However, after a fated seminar with a criminal justice professor at Cornell, the feds came to realise the power that RICO had and they devised a plan to take down not just the soldiers, but the bosses, and thus, the entire operation. And after years of recording, following, and wiretapping, they were successful to bring the mob bosses to justice.
Apart from interviews, there are also some tense re-enactments that I watched with absolute bated breath in Fear City. The way the feds put in taps into the bosses’ houses, cars and restaurants was mind-boggling. The hours of work and dedication is commendable, to say the least. However, sometimes there can crop up problems during such operations, and it is thus also exciting to watch these people make up a strategy at a minute’s notice.
Fear City also goes deep into the legal aspects of the whole case and details how the case against The Commission was built, brick-by-brick, and made air-tight that resulted in a conviction.
However, is it fair to blame the mob for each and every problem in New York City? Probably not. Systemic racism, poverty and the powerlessness of the cops and feds (which we get to see a bit of here) were rampant during that time (and still is, let’s be honest). That probably wasn’t as much of a mob problem as it was an institutional failure. Sure, the mob was the cause of several problems and had their tentacles in almost everything. But almost – not all.
I think it is not fair to gloss over that fact and make the mob this almost god-like entity when the problems in New York then and now (and all over the world) run deeper than just a class of criminals.
Summing up: Fear City
For fans of mobsters and such, Fear City is a fun watch. Honestly, there’s good storytelling and it’s made easy for people who aren’t familiar with the mob problems of the ‘70s. It is easy to follow, and the re-enactments are fun and thrilling to watch. I also enjoyed the court scenes at the end of the third part. It’s a good entertainer and makes you wonder if mob problems around the world are truly in the past.
Fear City: New York vs The Mafia is streaming on Netflix.
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