Why Netflix’s Fear City should be your next box set
Victoria Curatolo | On 30, Aug 2020
The latest documentary series to hit Netflix is Fear City: New York vs the Mafia, a close look at five Mafia families that controlled the city of New York throughout the 1970s and and 1980s – and the FBI informants who took them down. The families were five of organised crime’s most infamous – Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, Lucchese – all of whom were at the peak of Mafia dynasty in what has now become a renowned era in American history. What makes this series different is that while the majority of organised crime documentaries and fiction focuses on the criminals, Fear City vouches for the perspective of law enforcement.
The tense three-part series kicks off at the height of organised crime in the 1970s, when Italian American bosses ruled the roost and practically owned the entire city of Manhattan and its boroughs. From money-laundering to drug-trafficking and prostitution, the Mafia were experts in their field at taking down whoever was standing in their way. And it wasn’t until their expertise reached a hierarchy in the concrete business in the 1980s that the FBI were convinced that there was an opportunity to nail them. The families profiting hundreds of millions from persistent city construction was the catalyst into their unveiling and the eventual combustion of organised crime as they knew it.
Fear City predominantly features reenactments and interviews with former FBI agents, as well as former Mafia soldiers and underbosses. A small amount of archive footage helps take the spectacle of organised crime and make it a reality – one that was on its way to taking ownership of the whole country. One of the series’ central characters is that of Rudy Giuliani, who, before he was Trump’s cybersecurity advisor, was the District Attorney and driving force of the federal prosecution of New York’s Mafia. His interviews and archive footage recount his drive and unsolicited determination to make these families obsolete and ultimately protect the city.
Fear City: New York vs The Mafia is brought to you by the people behind Don’t F*** with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer – easily one of the most controversial and disturbing documentaries released by Netflix – and while Fear City is less contentious, it is nowhere near less startling. However, although the series chronicles the events from the 1970s up until what led to the detention of the “New York Five” in 1985/86, it goes no further. This is the show’s downfall, as some resolution of how organised crime has evolved since feels necessary.
The Mafia have been a part of American history and pop culture for decades, with filmmakers likes Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola heightening our fascination on an even grander scale. This documentary series, however, reminds audiences that this is no film; this actually happened and FBI agents risked their lives on a daily basis. One scene shockingly recounts an agent having to knock on the door of a boss’ house and subtly plant a bug into his television. Another had a maximum of 45 seconds to unscrew a car radio and plant a device before he had any way of knowing. This is real life, and the retelling of these stories is extraordinary and anxiety-inducing.
Fear City: New York vs the Mafia is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.