If you watched The Sopranos or another more contemporary mob story and wondered what exactly the whole deal with RICO was, Fear City: New York vs the Mafia is a good documentary for you to watch in order to get the whole story. In this new Netflix documentary, organized crime veterans and federal agents explain how New York took a more organized approach to fighting organized crime, using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and listening devices, targeting the leaders of each of the famed Five Families in the 1970s and 80s.
Fear City uses high-quality reenactments as well as interviews to tell some complicated, twisted stories with panache. For example, one investigator is interviewed while sitting in his car under a bridge. The backdrop adds some edge to the visuals that accompany his story of a big risk he took to bug a mafia boss’s home. The filmmakers are able to overcome the problem of not having a lot of archival footage of the investigations themselves without resorting to corny reenactments. Really, this series could have been a podcast because the visuals are so unnecessary to the storytelling, but the visual content included is sufficiently stylish that it does not cheapen the production. A lot of the details included are fascinating and funny, making this an engaging, insightful series for fans of mafia stories.
Fear City: New York vs the Mafia is rated TV-MA and streams for three episodes on Netflix.
Over on HBO Max, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark tells the story of the investigation behind Michelle McNamara’s bestselling true crime book of the same name. Although you can watch the series without having read the book, I think it is a much richer experience if you have read the book first. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark draws on archival footage of McNamara, interviews with her husband (comedian Patton Oswalt), and the investigators who worked with her, and evocative voiceover by Lauren Orlando as McNamara in her own words to tell the story of the hunt for the Golden State Killer. Whereas McNamara’s book focuses in chilling detail on the Golden State Killer’s crimes and the work detectives did to try to find his identity, the documentary focuses more on the victims’ voices, enriching the telling of this very scary true crime story. The documentary also includes more details about McNamara’s life in the years before her untimely death, the process of bringing her book to publication after she passed, and, finally, how detectives finally closed the case.
The book I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was so well written and the case itself is so terrifying that the last few years have brought many different takes on the material, from podcasts to another series on Hulu. I think this documentary series is by far the best choice to accompany the book. That Patton Oswalt was involved in its production adds a great deal to the access the filmmakers had to McNamara and her story, but the documentary uses Oswalt judiciously. He gets to tell the story of the woman he loved without the whole production turning into a tragic love story. The incorporation of the process of publishing I’ll Be Gone in the Dark posthumously also adds a fascinating element, as editors, friends, and fellow investigators teamed up to finish and polish McNamara’s draft. Some of that process comes out in the book itself, but the documentary expounds on it in a way that contributes to moving the overall narrative of the case forward as well.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is not just a gripping story, the documentary also tells it beautifully. The voiceovers sound uncannily like McNamara and they help the story move seamlessly from archival footage to the book, to exposition about the author’s story. The use of images and interviews to tell the victims’ stories is sensitive to how traumatizing their experiences were, so the series is able to tell a violent story with respect and style. For true crime fans, this docuseries is a must-watch. But don’t skip the book.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is rated TV-MA and streams for six episodes on HBO Max.