Though there haven’t been a lot of movies about it, the tentacles of Italy-based organized crime duly reach above Scorsese territory to the even-more-frequently-Frozen North. If not for the French dialogue, however, you wouldn’t necessarily know “Mafia Inc” were taking place in Quebec, or even Canada, so familiar and insular is the brutal syndicate business depicted here. This solid mob drama is based on journalists Andre Cedilot and Andre Noel’s best-selling nonfiction tome of the same name, which had the self-explanatory subtitle “The Long, Bloody Reign of Canada’s Sicilian Clan.”
Somewhat fictionalizing a few elements from that decades-spanning exposé, “Mafia Inc” isn’t the most stylistically flamboyant, violent or memorable specimen within its screen genre. But it does provide an engrossing thicket of criminal intrigue that ultimately comes down to a conflict between two families, one headed by veteran Italian star Sergio Castellitto, the other by native son Marc-André Grondin. Director Podz (aka Daniel Grou) and adaptor Sylvain Guy’s film is getting U.S. distribution 15 months after its festival premiere, a year after home-turf launch, with Film Movement releasing to U.S. virtual cinemas, VOD and digital on Feb. 19.
In 1994, the Montreal-centered mob network led by émigré Frank Paterno (Castellitto), né Francesco, is plotting an eventual transition to “clean” moneymaking rackets with its overseers in Rome. But meanwhile, some very dirty business is happening in Venezuela at the behest of Vince Gamache (Grondin). He’s a French-Canadian lieutenant Frank has steadily boosted up the ladder since the local boy protected his own son Giaco (Donny Falsetti) when they were teenagers. Vince has turned into an alarmingly ruthless enforcer whose bright idea for transporting a huge load of drugs from Caracas to Canada (involving the “accidental” deaths of numerous children) might have catastrophic consequences for all if found out, even by Frank.
For the time being, however, Frank appears to be cutting his own offspring by putting Vince in charge of a new cartel of hitherto-rivalrous bikers, gangs and Irish mobsters — something that was Giaco’s brainchild. As ever with the Machiavellian Frank, however, he has his reasons. He also has problems, not just in controlling the excess-prone Vince, but restraining a longterm associate so blabby he’s known as “Yap-Yap” (Antonio Iammatteo), bribing local politicians, and fending off government investigators.
When those last begin to descend full-force, tensions between coldblooded Frank and hot-tempered Vince have already curdled into deadly opposition. Theirs is a complicated relationship, to say the least: Vince was a troubled kid “adopted,” then made into a professional monster by the same famiglia that has employed his law-abiding tailor father (Gilbert Sicotte) for decades, and into which his own ambitious sister (Mylène Mackay) is marrying (via Michael Ricci as Frank’s younger son Patrizio).
While there was doubtless a miniseries’ worth of internecine dramas in the source material, Guy does well to limit his screenplay’s canvas to these fictionalized primary figures, making for a fast-paced tale whose sprawl of characters and events is just contained enough to be coherent. One thing which gets left out is any sense of how this criminal underworld impacts mainstream society, whether in Montreal, in Quebec, or the entire nation. We don’t see the ways in which Frank’s operations trickle down to street level — though we do see, rather shockingly, the way he gets politicos to sneak in laws that reduce prison sentences for his “friends.”
Though there’s a constant threat of violence, what’s actually shown is relatively discreet. Still, there’s no question Vince has a grisly propensity for it. That makes it all the more surprising when halfway through an otherwise straightforward narrative, we flash back to the beginnings of his corrupting ties to the Paternos. “Donnie Brasco” this ain’t, yet there ends up being more pathos to Grondin’s full-throttle performance than one initially anticipates.
Castellitto, on the other hand, limns a figure whose icy dedication to business only grows more scarifying as the story goes on. Falsetti brings an intriguing intensity to the third-most-prominent role here, and subsidiary ones are nicely filled. Like “The Irishman,” which premiered around the same time in 2019, this is not a movie with much room for women — at least not until Mackay is well-served by a fadeout that suddenly elevates Sofie to MVP.
More efficient than operatic in its storytelling, “Mafia Inc” eschews the kind of flashy setpieces often bestowed upon celluloid mob tales. Nonetheless, there are strong compositions in Steve Cosens’ widescreen cinematography, and without ever seeming rushed, Valérie Héroux’s editorial pace seldom flags. When we’re not confined to the back alleys, warehouses and meatpacking plants (don’t ask) where dirty deeds get done, David Pelletier’s production design provides interiors of garish gold-and-leather opulence. The effective original score by Montreal electropop duo Milk & Bone, abetted by some preexisting tracks, provides a subtle layer of appalled irony to characters who commit base acts while giving off an air of aristocratic grandiosity.