At the time of it’s release in July of 1991 Mobsters was marketed as ‘Young Tommyguns’ in a play on the similarly themed Young Guns films that had proved popular with audiences. However I’ve always felt those western soap operas were far more lightweight than this ambitious, brooding and handsome looking mafia story chroncling the rise of what was then known as ‘The Commssion’. Compromised of two Italian and two Jewish members; Charlie Luciano and Frank Costello along with Meyer Lanskey and ‘Bugsy’ Seagal, respectively. Mobsters does copy Young Guns casting choices by recruiting a group of youthful, good-looking stars that appeal to a teenage demographic. Maybe that’s the reason this film is so heavy on the gore, in an attempt to compete with the Mad Slasher pictures that seemed to rule the box-office during the late 80’s- early 90’s.
Christian Slater headlines the cast including Patrick Dempsey, Costas Mandylor, 21 Jump Street‘s Richard Grieco and screen veterans Anthony Quinn and Michael Gambon. The acting is uniformly strong and particularly surprising coming from Slater and Dempsey; two actors that never came across as commanding until I saw their performances here. It was said that real life gangster Charlie ‘Lucky’ Luciano met actor Anthony Quinn and told him that if a film ever materialized about his life that he wanted Quinn to play the part. Unfortunately it took almost 40 years for the tale to reach screens and Quinn was far to old to play a young street wise hood. His appearance here as mob boss Don Masseria is a nod to the man that inspired the film but Quinn’s acting comes off as too ‘theatrical’ and the picture strikes a hammy note every time director Michael Kabelnikoff lets him run lose chewing up scenery ( and Slater) in the process.
The screenplay credited to OSCAR nominee Nicolas Kazan ( Reversal of Fortune) and Michael Mehern is a intricate little affair told with clarity and a level of sophistication. Though the character of the female love interest a showgirl played with little enthusiasm by Lara Flynn Boyle is terribly underwritten. She shares two scenes with Slater before being killed off and the film lingers over her passing as if it were a significant lose. When in reality the audience is left bewildered as to why Luciano felt so deeply about a flapper girl he shared a passing fling with. Otherwise the tale is a nicely drawn albeit truncated retelling of the events that led to a group of bootleggers challenging the old guard and forming an unstoppable organized crime family that would rain over unions and narcotics for decades to come.
Exquisite Cinematography by Lajos Koltai, lush production design by Richard Sylbert and a melodic score from Michael Small are major assets in giving the picture a sense of time and place and establishing the authority of the story. Making his directorial debut is commercial director Michael Karbelnikoff he does a nice job in keeping the pace brisk without ever feeling rushed. My only complain is a cheesy montage intercut with each of the lead actors firing off machine-guns in finely tailored suits and highly groomed and coiffed hairdos. The film betrays itself in these small moments and you can almost hear the nervous studio executives complaining that ‘the film is too plot-heavy’ and to make ‘it more appealing to younger audiences’. I’m sure Karbelnikoff had to struggle to ensure his stylized film would make it to the screen without losing all credibility. He has succeed for the most part in delivery a movie that is beautiful to gaze at but also rich in operatic grandiose. Worthwhile viewing for those looking interested in one of the more ‘polished’ gangster movies ever made.
Director: Michael Karbelnikoff
Stars: Christian Slater, Costas Mandylor, Richard Grieco