Joe Pistone is really stepping to the fore now, in a The Sopranos sort of way. The former FBI agent, better known as “Donnie Brasco,” who successfully infiltrated the Mafia for six years now goes on camera (albeit in shades) for National Geographic Channel’s new two-part documentary Inside the Mafia.
Either Pistone misses the attention from his book tour and lectures, or his claim that the contract that’s been on his head for years doesn’t consume him is really true, because he’s more front and center than ever. And he’s not alone.
Credit to the network for the production, but it’s a curiosity why everyone from Pistone and drug-trafficking mastermind Gaetano Badalamenti to Maria Falcone — sister of the assassinated anti-Mafia activist Giovanni Falcone — felt so compelled to reveal company and family secrets.
The Mafia’s code of honor advises against talking to the cops, but omerta evidently doesn’t extend to television interviews. Maybe it’s a softening effect from the success of shows like Growing Up Gotti, but the mob is opening up to the media as if it needs a new publicist.
The subjects’ head-scratching motivation aside, the first episode of the series provides a moderately paced historical look at the development of the Mafia in Italy and America. The front-page headline events are saved for the latter installments, in which the details of the personnel structure, business plans and adherence to values would impress any CEO.
But by the 1970s, the Sicilians have long been established, the multibillion-dollar-per-year heroin trade is in full gear and three men assassinate a boss suspected of embezzling money. He dies with a cigar in his mouth — and five types of bullets in his body. Modern-day crime-scene investigation teams would have a field day with this stuff.
The details of the origins of the familial crime organization from its roots in Italy in the late 19th century to this year also are weaved into a compelling story. Still, it’s like watching a house burn down because the owner was smoking in bed. There’s a sense of guilt at being fascinated by someone’s misfortune, even if it’s of their own design.
Narrated by Ray Liotta (who portrayed wiseguy-turned-snitch Henry Hill in the theatrical Goodfellas) and produced by Wall to Wall Media, the first and second installments of Inside the Mafia premiere June 13 at 9 p.m. on Nat Geo, followed by the third and fourth installments at the same time the next night.