Louisa Moore - Screen Zealots
Morality and violence in small-town America is explored in the gritty and brutal “Mob Land,” a modern neo-noir film from director and co-writer Nicholas Maggio. Reminiscent of films like “Hell or High Water” and “Wind River,” this is the type of unapologetically masculine story that’s seriously dark, rooted in brutality, and emanates a sense of realism that captures the essence of small town Americana. A small town in the heart of the South is struggling with the opioid epidemic. It seems like every week another local resident is dying from an overdose. The local sheriff (John Travolta) does his best to keep law and order, but things get complicated when his personal friend and desperate family man Shelby (Shiloh Fernandez) is convinced to rob a pill mill with his reckless brother-in-law Trey (Kevin Dillon). The two men rip off the wrong people, and the promise of an easy payday and lure of a quick score takes a violent turn, especially when the New Orleans mafia sends their most lethal revenge-seeking enforcer named Clayton (Stephen Dorff) to town. Tasked with bringing justice to the perpetrators, Clayton tracks down Trey and Shelby, threatening their families and their lives. It’s a solid foundation for a thriller, and Maggio (along with co-writer Rob Healy) takes his time to thoroughly set up and develop his rich, authentic characters. The cast is excellent, with strong performances and an equally engaging script. Dorff is genuinely frightening as a menacing henchman, and Fernandez has an abundance of charisma and talent that’s more than enough to hold the entire project together. Travolta falls victim to a bit of stunt casting, but his supporting role complements the story well. Maggio is a skilled director, and his film is polished with a homegrown, rough-around-the-edges feel. He creates a world where his characters can settle in and be themselves, and it lends a depth to the authenticity of the story. Except for a couple of scenes filmed with an annoying (and clichéd) handheld shaky cam, Maggio almost always leans on directorial choices that make his film better. While it may ultimately be forgettable, there is still a lot to like about “Mob Land.” It’s a shocking, brutal, and grim morality tale about revenge, honor, and the savagery of survival in rural America.
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