New mob film ‘The Wannabe’ misses the mark
December 2, 2015
“The Wannabe,” a new film by Nick Sandow, has a good premise going for it, if little else. The film revolves around Thomas (Vincent Piazza) — a member of a slowly but surely changing mafia — is slowly realizing that the Mafia as he knows it is coming to an end. Crime boss John Gotti is on trial and Thomas will do all he can to get him let off. In the hands of a more talented director and a bigger budget, the film could have been a drama about a man facing the end of an era. Unfortunately, Sandow’s film is an unconvincing mixture of past mob films.
The most glaring problem with the film is Sandow’s attempt to recreate the early 1990s on a very small budget. Anyone familiar with the city will notice how little the cars, buildings and signs were changed for the film. There is an effort to conceal this by focusing on interiors and by shooting most of the outdoor scenes with the backgrounds obscured. This creates visually unappealing shots that often distract from the story. There is no real sense that the characters live in the past.
The film is also shot in a way that is very disorienting. Many characters are shot very close up with unstable handheld cameras and the editing is often rapid and uncontrolled in their attempts to mirror the candid, rough tone of the plot. The style is in some ways similar to that of the earliest John Cassavetes films, but there is none of his precision.
The film attempts a psychological portrait of Thomas. He is obsessed with Gotti and the mafia, but the reason behind this obsession is never explained. Had a more capable actor filled the role, audiences might simply accept this obsession, but Piazza plays Thomas as a man more stupid than sinister. Patricia Arquette plays Thomas’ girlfriend and is no better. She is unconvincing as an Italian mob girlfriend, not due to the age difference, but because of the overtly maternal undertones of her relationship with Thomas.
The cast is comprised of actors who are familiar with the mafia film genre. Michael Imperioli, Spider in “Goodfellas,” plays the owner of a flower shop. He does as much as he can to keep Thomas away from crime, but fails. In this small part Imperioli is very successful. Domenick Lombardozzi, Herc from “The Wire,” is solid as a local mobster Thomas tries to impress.
In a genre that has produced as much great work as the mob film, there is little new territory. Sandow deserves credit for opening up a new possibility, even if he does not fulfill it. What is memorable in the film is the opening, in which Gotti is tried while hundreds of his supporters gather in the street. It is clear that for average citizens, Gotti was a hero. It would be fascinating to see a film that examined his life and notoriety, but “The Wannabe” moves Gotti to the sidelines in order to focus on a pathetic protagonist in his dismal storyline.
“The Wannabe” opens in theaters on Dec. 4.
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