Mob dramas almost always focus on men. We see the husbands and sons in families off galavanting, pulling jobs, living the good life. Then, it’s time to pay the piper. That’s just how it goes. Now, we have something with a different angle on that story in Fresh Kills. The filmmaking debut of actress Jennifer Esposito, it’s a mob tale, but from the perspective of the women surrounding the men. It’s a strong starting point, but unfortunately, it doesn’t add up to much, ending as one of the more disappointing titles at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival.
Fresh Kills doesn’t do enough with its premise. Sure, we have individually strong moments, but a bloated running time, as well as a meandering focus, prevented me from ever locking in with it. Now, I’m admittedly not a devotee to the mob genre in general, so a movie like this isn’t subverting something I adore or anything. That alone may make the flick work better for others. For me? it just came up short.
For the Larusso family, moving from Brooklyn to Staten Island was supposed to be a fresh start. It was meant to benefit everyone. In particular, wife and mother Francine (Esposito) would be further away and less likely to see to what her husband Joe (Domenick Lombardozzi) does for a living. She’s not dumb, she knows he’s a mobster, but the hope is that a better life for her daughters will be what matters. Unfortunately, she immediately finds out that they now live next door to Joe’s mob associate Nello (Stelio Savante). They haven’t escaped anything. Siblings Connie (Odessa A’zion) and Rose (Emily Bader) are going to be just as in the shadow of crime and violence as ever.
As the sisters grow up, they become very different people. Connie rebels at every opportunity, while Rose tries to play the part of a good woman, in all aspects. The former loves and defends her father, while the latter can’t quite reconcile his criminal activities with who he is at home. In the middle? Francine, always close to the breaking point.
The cast does a solid job of making you feel like you’re within the family dynamics. Someone like Domenick Lombardozzi has been a familiar face for years, though this is a slightly different kind of character for him to play. Jennifer Esposito takes a plum supporting role, though you do wish that you got in her head a bit more. As for Odessa A’zion and Emily Bader, they fare the best, creating two very different sides of the coin. You just wish the script gave them a bit more to do. In addition to Stelio Savante, the supporting players include Annabella Sciorra, among others.
Jennifer Esposito writes and directs Fresh Kills, and while the flick comes up short for me, there’s enough talent here to think she has a bright future in filmmaking. The actress has the germ of a great idea and directs her cast well, so with a better sense of pacing and a bit more meat on her story’s bones, she’d have something. Don’t sleep on what she does next.
Fresh Kills isn’t bad, by any stretch, but it does disappointingly little with its premise. Now, I’m keen to see what Esposito does next, especially since this is a first film. As it stands, it’s not a Tribeca title that I’m keen to revisit. Your mileage may vary, though, especially if mob movies are more your thing than mine…