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True Crime Docuseries Review: Fear City: New York vs The Mafia


 Some reviewers of this 2020 docuseries on Netflix have said that if you know about the case against The Mafia Commission you will find nothing new here.  Thankfully for me I know very little about it, making a lot of the information delivered interesting and compelling.  Not a lot of us know exactly how the mafia works, with a lot of our knowledge coming from movies and television.  A production like Fear City: New York vs The Mafia opens a window into the structure of these criminal organizations and highlights the FBI's efforts to bring them to justice.

The series is directed by Sam Hobkinson, a person with a long list of documentary projects under his belt. I have not seen any of his works before, but while watching Fear City it was clear that there are some solid talents in story telling that are on display.  The series moves along at a good pace, and builds up to arrests and a trial against the New York Mafia commission, a group of the leaders of the five mafia families that meet to confer on the running of each of their organizations.

Interviews are mostly centred on FBI agents and their work, as well as other law enforcement and lawyers.  The perspective that is given shows the amount of work involved and the years that passed while they built their case.  We learn the fascinating techniques that were used to bug mafia members, with some impressive deception being utilized.

Thankfully, when it comes to reenactments they are limited and aren't incredibly noticeable.  The presence and style of reenactments can be a massive issue for me.  When they are overly dramatic and sensational they lower the quality of the narrative, and often come across as cheesy.  I personally prefer when none are used at all, but if they are present and not distracting it's alright.  This one element can create a massive issue with the overall tone and credibility if not used properly.  Sadly, it is misused about 80% of the time. Happily, I didn't find that to be the case with Fear City.

Offering a unique perspective in this series are a few interviews with former members of the mafia.  They are honest about a lot of what went on, what life was like, and added a degree of credibility.  The audience gets some insight into how the mafia worked, and how it aggressively targeted anyone that could provide them money, including intimidating and extorting small businesses to pay money to the mafia families.

For those with a curiosity about organized crime, especially the Sicilian mafia families of New York, this is a solid series to watch.  At only three episodes long, it is easily manageable, and I felt that the amount of interesting material found within was impressive.  There weren't distracted rabbit trails that sometimes happen to increase run times and series length.  If you are well aware of the New York mafia situation in the 1980s, there may not be much provided that you already didn't know.  If, like me, you aren't overly familiar with the material, it can be a compelling watch.

Rating - 3 out of 4 stars

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