Narrated by Emmy® Award-winning actor Ray Liotta, The Making of The Mob: New York is an eight-part series that begins in 1905 and spans over 50 years to trace the rise of Charles Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Benjamin Bugsy Siegel, and other notorious New York gangsters. From their beginnings as a neighborhood gang of teenagers to murderous entrepreneurs and bootleggers who organized the criminal underworld, these men turned the Mafia into an American institution. Utilizing an immersive blend of dramatic scenes, archival footage, and groundbreaking VFX, The Making of The Mob: New York is AMC's first-ever docudrama, featuring exclusive interviews with notable names including former NYC Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Meyer Lansky II, Chazz Palminteri, Drea de Matteo, Joe Mantegna, Vincent Pastore, Frankie Valli, Frank Vincent, Mob attorney and former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, and noted author and historian David Pietrusza, among many others.
'The Making of the Mob: New York' arrives from Director John Ealer, the same guy who put together the quite excellent The World Wars docu-drama series for The History Channel in 2014. It's also from the producers of The History Channel's The Men Who Built America, which I haven't seen, but have heard good things about. Tasked with delivering AMC's first-ever docu-drama – this one about the rise of the mafia in New York City – one would expect a pretty good production. Which is not to say this isn't, but 'The Making of the Mob: New York' is a little more by-the-numbers and a little less engaging than I hoped it might be going in. It's certainly watchable, but it's also something I have no plans to view again.
While the series does cover most of the major mob figures in New York City from the early 1900s into the 1950s, make no mistake about it – this is a docu-drama covering the life and times of Charles 'Lucky' Luciano (Rich Graff), as the first episode covers how he first became involved in organized crime, while the final episode details his death. All the other criminals we meet here: Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, Arnold Rothstein, Vito Genovese, Frank Costello, and yes, even Al Capone, are on hand because they're people Luciano was involved with or crossed paths with during his lifetime. Don't worry, we learn plenty about them too (except for Capone, who I can only assume is being saved for 'The Making of the Mob: Chicago'), but the focus here is primarily on Luciano.
Narrated by 'GoodFella' Ray Liotta, the series is divided up into eight episodes, each running somewhere in the neighborhood of 42 minutes. There's some dialogue acting from the cast, but probably about a third of the dramatic footage is without speaking and has Liotta describing what is going on. Intertwined in all of this are a number of 'talking head' moments with various writers, historical experts, and entertainers. Some of those you might be familiar with include The Sopranos actor Vincent Pastore, singer Frankie Valli, and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. Sadly, the input from these participants is few and far between and only accounts for about 10 percent (if that) of each episode. I found a lot of their comments to be entertaining, and I really wish they had been allowed to contribute a lot more than they do.
As for the quality of the dramatic scenes, it's about what you'd expect for a series like this. Not particularly thrilling or huge on action and stunts (although there is some gunplay), but nothing anyone involved should be embarrassed about. Seeing actors play these mobsters helps viewers get a little more attached to them as human beings (as opposed to, say, just showing black and white photographs, which is what a documentarian like Ken Burns would give us), but some of the dialogue they're asked to recite is pretty clichéd, and more often than not using phases more modern and not period-appropriate.
Overall, 'The Making of the Mob: New York' isn't really designed for die-hard mafia aficionados. This is more 'Wiseguys 101' and intended to be a broad overview of the rise of the mob in America, rather than a more specific and detailed look at any of these men's lives. As noted, Lucky Luciano is the real focus here, so if he's a mob figure you have a particular passion for, this release may be worth picking up. For most, though, this is rental only material – definitely worth a viewing, but not something you're likely want to sit through a second time.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Making of the Mob: New York' hits Blu-ray in an eco-friendly Elite keepcase, which houses the two 50GB dual-layer discs with an insert advertising 'The Walking Dead' on one side and 'Into the Badlands' on the other side. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase's slick slides overtop. The first disc in this set is front-loaded with short promos for The Walking Dead, 'Into the Badlands', 'Comic Book Men', and Better Call Saul. The main menu features a video montage of footage from this multi-part series, with menu selections running across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-rays in this release are Region A locked.
Each episode of 'The Making of the Mob' was shot digitally on Arri Amira equipment and is presented on Blu-ray at its original television aspect ratio of 1.78:1. While there are no major issues with the video in terms of glitches, the cinematic style chosen by the director and cinematographer results in images that – for the most part – look rather flat and free of any HD 'pop'. As with most television shot digitally, scenes shot in outdoor environments look the best, but when shooting indoors and on sets, the proceedings have a very murky look to them, which isn't helped by the fact that the creators have opted for an appearance that is ever so slightly drained of color to give everything a more 'historical' look to it. On the other hand, the 'talking heads' segments are as crisp and clear as one might suspect, but don't blend in very well with the docu-drama action. So, sadly, this is one of those releases where the difference between DVD and Blu-ray isn't all that noticeable – or, at least, not noticeable enough that this HD version is leaps and bounds better than the standard-def counterpart.
The only audio option for these episodes is an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, and while it really doesn't 'wow' in any notable way, it more than serves its purpose for a presentation like this one. So much of these episodes are dialogue-driven, not only with what's happening in terms of the dramatic recreations, but due to the fact that everything is being narrated and there are 'talking head' segments mixed into the episodes as well. Of course, this being a presentation about the mob does lead to more than a few shootouts, and while viewers/listeners will notice their rear speakers come to life at those points, it's still nothing that really provides much in the way of immersion or directionality. LFE effects are all but non-existent as well. The bottom line here is that the tracks are serviceable, but not a whole lot more than that. They are, however, free of any problematic glitches.
'The Making of the Mob: New York' is by no means an outstanding docu-drama, but it's watchable enough to make for an entertaining viewing. While I could have done with a little more of the 'talking heads' and a little less of the dramatic production, I never found myself bored with this series and think it's at least worth a rental (although you'll want to give yourself a good week to get through these eight episodes).