True crime has changed greatly over the years. Today’s most popular podcasts of the genre deal with cold cases and obscure cases. There was a time when the vast majority of true crime stories dealt with the Mafia. Fear City: New York vs The Mafia details how investigators ended the golden era of the mob. The three episode docuseries uses interviews, wiretaps, and archival footage. The story may be familiar, but does that make it any less engrossing?
As expected, the series contains many interviews. What may come as a surprise is how much of Fear City is talking heads. Many documentaries forgo narration, but few are willing to take the risk Director Sam Hobkinson dies on here. It works since Hobkinson understands a documentary cannot rely solely on interviews. There is the use of news footage and stills from the time, but that is part and parcel for the genre. Fear City also adds recordings of wiretaps gained over the years.
The second and third episodes are where the recordings really come into play. Whereas the first episode is about the FBI getting their act together, the next two showcase the taped conversations. Many Mafia documentaries focus on the murder and more illicit side of crime. Fear City shows how deeply involved in white collar schemes the mob was. It is an interesting look at what was going on during the time.
A documentary about the mafia without discussing violence would not be capturing the entire story, however. The first and last episodes bookend Fear City with stories of murder. From gang style shootings to people being thrown out of high rise buildings, the documentary has its share of brutal tales. Hobkinson may not make the entire series about killing, but it is still an important part of the story.
One thing that stands out about Fear City is how it fails to capture the feel of New York. It does a great job of capturing a period of time, but it never feels like a tale of New York. It is more about people while the actual city is just the backdrop for what is happening. It never hurts the show but it is surprising considering the setting is in the city. A recurring theme of the Netflix series is the connection between the FBI and the mafia.
Early on, investigators and members of the mob both state the understanding they had. Towards the end, an agent talks about the shocking murder of one of his targets. This kinship between law enforcement and law breaker is often seen in movies. Many times, it comes off as silly. In Fear City, interviews show why this sometimes happens.
Though their power is greatly diminished since their heyday, stories about the mafia remain interesting. Fear City: New York vs The Mafia is another documentary about the downfall of the mafia. Those who are interested in these types of movies and documentaries will find it very familiar. However, it does enough things differently that make it an entertaining watch.
Fear City: New York vs The Mafia premieres July 22 on Netflix.