Out of all the movies about organized crime in movie history, what’s your favorite gangster moment? Is it when Sonny Corleone is gunned down at the toll booth in ‘The Godfather’?? How about when Tommy goes on his “Do I look funny to you?” rant before beating a man in ‘Goodfellas’? Or how about the one man stand off at the end of DePalma’s ‘Scarface’? Considering the breadth of gangster movies that have come out as far back as the 30s, these are just modern examples. How many am I missing because there’s no way I could possibly watch the backlog? So I ask again, out of all the classics, from then to now, which is your favorite?
I’m sorry, did you say the part where Thomas and Rose huff paint under a bridge before shooting a man in the ass in ‘The Wannabe’? That’s, uh…that sure is a choice.
I know it’s not fair to raise the bar so high for a movie that is based around literally a wannabe gangster, but the pedigree behind this movie is too high not to have these expectations. It’s written and directed by Nick Sandow who’s been around the ‘Orange is the New Black’ set long enough to have picked up a few things about storytelling, it stars Patricia Arquette, Domenick Lombardozzi, David Dayas, and Vincent Piazza, a who’s who of actors based in movie and TV crime dramas, and it got it’s blessing from Martin Scorsese himself, who acted as the executive producer, so where’s the problem? How can I, some prick from the internet who smashes a keyboard to make works all day before going home to play video games and touch himself, have such a higher opinion of quality than this multi award winning crew?
Answer: because I’m the fucking guy who has to watch it.
No matter the talent, the biggest issue with any movie starts with the story. Go to any Boarders…um, I mean Waldenbooks…um, Barnes and Noble…I’m going with that because there’s a few near me, and you’ll see an entire section dedicated to true crime. Legendary stories are crammed next to lesser known, yet still pivotal entries in the history of organized crime. It’s amazing how much we know since the inner workings of the mob were held secret for so long. It’s no wonder that so many movies were made about the mafia. Start on the wikipedia page of any crime family and fall into the rabbit hole. It’s a real life epic that would take Frodo and Sam to the nearest underpass and face rape them with bullets. So of all the great, thrilling stories Nick Sandow could have pulled from, which one did he pick to show off to the world?
He picked the story of a couple of junkies who rob poker games.
I can see the base appeal to a movie like this. Some schmuck has it in his mind that he’s a gangster and starts acting like it with the hope of gaining recognition from the real deal. The more he tries, the harder he fails, ending up further away from his from his fantasies until he and his wife / partner in crime end up dead. And when this happens in ‘The Wannabe’ you have some of the best moments, but this isn’t the focus of film.
‘The Wannabe’ is based on a true story and it tries it’s best to stick to what actually happened, but just like all the other bullshit out there, it fails. The biggest issue is the amount of speculation that’s required to get from point A to point B. In real life, Thomas and Rose were obsessed with gangster culture, and as a way of expressing it, they robbed “social clubs” that were protected by the Gambino crime family. Now the movie does play this out, but before you get there, you have to get through forty five minutes of Thomas having a hard on for John Gotti. FORTY FIVE minutes out of an hour and a half long movie. That’s too much set up for what is essentially a one note character. While it’s true that the real Thomas was seen at John Gotti’s trial, it’s not known whether it’s because he idolized John Gotti or if he was just a fanboy getting close to the action. ‘The Wannabe’ says fuck it and makes him idolize John Gotti.
Full disclosure: I had to take a piss in the middle of the movie. If there was a line of dialogue that explained how the speculation of the first half led to the crimes of the second half, I missed it. It had better have been a stellar scene, because I was having a real hard time trying to figure out how John Gotti’s number one fan would start knocking over clubs belonging to his family. Thomas even knew one of the Gambino capos! Beyond smoking, snorting, and shooting everything that would allow him to make trailer park like decisions (which is not enough for this situation), why would he fuck with the family of his idol?
What’s a real shame is that the pieces making up this movie are fine, but as a whole, I can’t recommend it. The acting is believable, the writing, while boring, doesn’t feel stiff and contains some good ideas, and there are even enjoyable moments that grabbed my attention. Ten minutes of entertainment doesn’t excuse the other eighty minutes. If you’re the kind of person that can overlook this kind of thing, and you love anything involving the mob, then give ‘The Wannabe’ a watch. For just about everyone else, I’d say pass.