Some mobster movies are violent, others are even more violent but Rob the Mob is just mind-blowing unbelievable. The irony is that it is based on a true story and the main protagonists, Tommy (Michael Pitt) and Rosie (Nina Arianda), were real persons. What’s so unbelievable? The stupidity. Okay, perhaps, that’s being too judgmental so let me contextualize. Spoilers ahead.
Tommy and Rosie of Queens, New York are a weed-smoking twenty-something couple who rob a florist’s shop on Valentine’s Day so that Tommy could give his girl a bunch of roses. They get caught and they serve time. Rosie is released from prison ahead of Tommy and she tries to go straight by getting a job in a debt-collection agency.
When Tommy is released, Rosie encourages him to take a job in the same agency. He does. But, after a short while, he becomes restless and starts disappearing from work. He reads about the on-going Gotti trial and decides to walk into the courtroom while Sammy Gravano, mobster hitman turned state witness, is giving his testimony. Tommy notes what Gravano says about guns not being allowed in mobster social clubs.
On one occasion, money is tight and Tommy convinces Rosie that they could make quick money by robbing a mobster social club. Just one time, he says, so they could start over. Although initially skeptic, Rosie gives in. With her on the wheel, Tommy puts on a ski mask and enters a social club carrying a machine gun. They pull off the heist and, pretty soon, they go for another and another. The victimized mobsters make no police reports. On the last robbery, Tommy takes the wallet of Joey D. and comes into possession of “The List” which contains a complete illustration of the Mafia organization with names and telephone numbers of the mobsters.
Meanwhile, the FBI which had bugged one of the social clubs overhears one of the robberies. A newspaper reporter takes an interest in the robberies, writes a story and calls Tommy and Rosie modern day Bonnie and Clyde. Rosie, unhappy with the errors in the article, calls up the reporter and agrees to meet with him for an interview where she volunteers a lot of information about herself and Tommy including where they are from and where their families live.
Tommy, aware of the significance of “The List”, starts calling up the mobsters to tell them that if anything happened to him or Rosie, the list would find its way to the authorities. Flustered, crime boss Big Al (Andy Garcia) who has “turned legit” as the owner of a meat deli shop, calls a meeting where the order was given to find and get rid of Tommy and Rosie.
In the midst of it all, and even knowing that they are in a dangerous situation, Tommy and Rosie never change apartments. And they still use the same car which Rosie had so accurately described to the newspaper reporter.
On Christmas Eve, Tommy and Rosie go out for some last minute shopping. They see the reporter outside their apartment who tries to give them a wad of cash with the advice to flee to Mexico. Tommy and Rosie refuse. They had planned to marry on Christmas day and move to Florida in the New Year. They refuse to change their plans. On the way home, Tommy and Rosie are shot dead in their car.
It’s tempting to say that that’s what happens to dumb people. And, with no intention to offend, that’s what Tommy and Rosie were. They were simple people who did not have the capacity to see the bigger picture. They knew it was dangerous to mess with the mob but they weren’t smart enough to take precautions. They were careless and fatalistic. It’s hard to sympathize with them but Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda played their roles so wonderfully that they at least made Tommy and Rosie understandable. Arianda was especially magnificent in her portrayal painting Rosie as generous, vulnerable, loyal and dumb.
And, just like movies like The Godfather, there is that attempt to humanize the mobster. Beyond the crimes, they are family men. Big Al is often shown in his home kitchen. In one scene, he is teaching his grandson how to make rice balls. His associate comes in, he sends the child off and, knowing that the house is bugged, he and his associate communicate by writing messages on a platter of tomato sauce.
Watching Rob the Mob was a strange experience. There were moments when I found myself laughing at the stupidity of Tommy and Rosie, and then reminded myself that that was what really happened in real life. That truth is stranger than fiction is an old cliche, but when the truth is fictionalized, it gets even more strange.