Stream it or Skip It: Fear City New York vs. The Mafia

It’s the 1980s and New York City is in economic decline, ruled by the iron fist of five Mafia families: Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Lucchese. Whether it’s drugs, extortion or murder, if it’s organized crime, the mob reigns supreme. 

In Netflix’s three-part docuseries “Fear City: New York vs. The Mafia,” directed by Sam Hobkinson, each hour-long episode describes how the FBI and the Justice Department ended the Mafia’s crime spree. Using  the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations  Act, better known as RICO, law enforcement crushed these organizations, which were powerful enough to monopolize the entire construction industry along with the drug trade and prostitution.

The series boasts interesting visuals, including panoramic shots of New York with dust filters that provide a more immersive, vintage experience. The setting of the interviews matched the tone of the subject matter, only adding to the visuals. Mafia soldiers tell their stories in dark, foreboding places like bars and boxing gyms, while federal agents are shot sitting down at coffee shops to share their side of the story.

 Either way, both parties’ anecdotes are told by individuals facing away from the camera, and the dramatic intensity of these stories makes it an arresting series to watch. Graphic footage of murders, black-and-white photographs, surveillance footage and a couple of reenactments only makes the series more fun to watch.

The content covered in the series is not particularly groundbreaking—it’s a well-worn topic that’s been covered multiple times in film. But Hobkinson’s darker portrayal of Mafia violence and a deeper look at the Mafia Commision trial add a compelling twist to the topic.

While it may be entertaining to watch gruesome reenactments of murder and such, the best parts are the suspenseful ones, like the risky installment of various bugs due to time constraints, or when Mafia members notice that certain wires look out of place. It’s also refreshing to see more praise given to the individuals who helped put the legendary godfathers behind bars, as opposed to the glamorizing of mobsters seen in movies such as “The Godfather” or “Goodfellas.”

If you have several hours to spare, I would highly recommend watching this documentary. It may not be a subject that’s new and refreshing, but the story and interviews are still interesting enough to grab your attention.


Verdict: Stream it