Whether you are watching the fantasy stylings of Game Of Thrones, the descent into narcissistic egotism in Breaking Bad, or the complex interplay in The Wire the central draw is often the same: how difficult it is to obtain and keep power. Canadian series Bad Blood is based on the real Mafia boss, Vito Rizzuto. This Montreal based gangster controlled all crime throughout the city as well as southern Quebec and Ontario.
The series focuses mostly on the period from the early 2000s to 2013. But also has flashbacks to the 80s and 90s. Operating on a different style to other, more flamboyant, gangsters, Vito Rizzuto managed to bring a long period of stability to the organised crime scene. By preferring to keep out of the limelight and by orchestrating a cooperative of the various criminal elements at street level, he wiped out the infighting. Rizzuto’s control of the Police, drug supply, and City Hall politicians (ensuring a vice-like racketeering grip on city contracts) meant that nothing happened without his say so. And so, when he was arrested for a series of murders that took place in the 80s and extradited to America to serve his term between 2004 and 2012 the resulting power vacuum marked the beginning of the end of his reign.
As a crime drama this is more Sopranos than Goodfellas. There is no lingering on torture or violence but simply a ruthless business-like approach. Anthony LaPaglia as Vito is a picture of calm pragmatism. For the most part this makes for a calculating core of the show around which everything else rotates. Even when he spends several episodes in jail. Although at times the lack of passion can mean that his scenes flounder a little. Occasionally the reliance is on the support cast to provide the outward emotion. But when he does have moments of weakness or outbursts of anger they are all the more powerful for being rare.
The most captivating performance has to be from Vito’s right hand man – Declan (Kim Coates). Coates’ delivery is genuinely emotive at times but also murderously ruthless at others. When we see him at his apartment, a space sparsely furnished and not at all decorated despite his vast earnings, we see a man who lives for nothing else but his work. His relationship with Vito is the true core of the show. He is trusted with running the Rizzuto family business whilst Vito is imprisoned. But after attempts are made on Vito’s son’s life he gets shunned. There is a powerful scene at the prison where Vito harshly tells Declan that he is nothing but an employee. Coates acts Declan as crestfallen and struggling to maintain composure but all within the smallest of facial twitches and frozen expression timings. It’s a masterful performance.
As a limited series of only 6 episodes at only 45 minutes each the show feels like it has more it could tell but has chosen which parts to cover wisely. The power manoeuvring of various elements keep fresh challenges coming. An incorruptible legal task force is gunning for Vito. Rival gangsters are trying to muscle in on his territory. And some trusted colleagues waver in their resolution. Even though some characters time on screen is relatively short, their deaths hit hard due to the brutal finality of it all.
Although there are plenty of clever power plays, the real sweet spot that Bad Blood hits is making each character fully relatable and realised. Vito’s mistress, Michelle (played by Maxim Roy) is a wonderful supporting character. She does little of plot significance, but her honest devotion to Vito whilst also acknowledging that she will never have a normal life because of it, is a beautifully real performance. Vito’s inside man in the police (Frank Schorpion) isn’t greedy or even particularly corrupt. He’s just settled into the reality of life, and when he sincerely asks Vito’s blessing to retire the air crackles between them with decades of relationship. And Enrico Colantoni, from Travelers, plays a blinder as Bruno Bonsignori.
A flashback scene about the nature of responsibility neatly sums up Bad Blood. Vito, as a child, is told by his father that he will be given tomato plants to nurture, and for every tomato grown he will be rewarded. But for every plant that fails he will be punished. This will happen regardless of whether he does everything he should perfectly or not, and yes, this is completely unfair. Life is essentially out of your control, but watching Bad Blood you can enjoy those who try to steer it for their own ends.
Words by Michael Record