Mob Land Review

Mob Land
Desperate for cash, family man Shelby (Shiloh Fernandez) helps his crook brother (Kevin Dillon) rob a pill store in small-town Dixie. When things turn violent, the New Orleans Mafia are alerted, sending enforcer Clayton (Stephen Dorff) to exact revenge as Sheriff Bodie Davis (John Travolta) tries to keep the peace.

by Jordan King |
Published on

2023 has been a real banner year for middling straight-to-streaming geriaction revenge thrillers so far, with Nicolas Cage and sexagenarian Spaniard Antonio Banderas both lending their talents to fine-but-forgettable offerings The Old Way and The Enforcer respectively. And now we have writer-director debutant Nicholas Maggio’s neo-Western/noir movie Mob Land to add to the pile. John Travolta — on the cusp of his seventies — throws his Stetson in the ring here, trading Pulp Fiction for pulp fiction to play an embattled sheriff in an Oxy-ravaged small town in the American Deep South. However, while Maggio’s movie sets out with noble No Country For Old Men aspirations, the result, sadly, is more merely ‘Some Country (And An Old Man)’, a tired genre exercise where flashes of innovation are left for dead in a pool of hackneyed homage.

Mob Land

Despite top billing, Travolta’s self-confessedly “fire and brimstone” Detective Bodie Davis — whose measured manner and gravelled cadence give the Grease star some interesting new beats to play — isn’t actually the lead here. Instead, he's a looming presence throughout, whose quiet wisdom offers a neat fatalistic flourish to proceedings. The lion’s share of our time is instead spent with Shiloh Fernandez’ Shelby Conners and Stephen Dorff’s Clayton Minor. Shelby’s a family man and a drag racer who pops pills to cover up early-onset Parkinson’s as he scrambles to look after his wife Caroline (Ashley Benson) and daughter Mila (Tia DiMartino). He’s the kind of guy who knows what’s broken — literally and figuratively — in his life, but who’s been around long enough to know he’s got no way of fixing it. We know this because he says, “I can’t fix it. What we got stays broke.” It’s neither the first nor last time in the film Maggio’s work exhibits a Taylor Sheridan-style exposition-is-for-wimps quality, but Fernandez at least carries it off with enough earnestness to make it feel sincere.

Platitudinous writing and increasingly frequent call-backs to more accomplished genre fare prove impossible to overcome.

When Shelby does try and do something to make a change, getting pulled into a hare-brained scheme by his crook brother Trey (Kevin Dillon) to rob a pill mill under the pretence of sticking up two fingers to the opioid crisis, things go wrong fast. And “wrong fast” leads straight to Clayton, an enforcer for the New Orleans Mafia who wears a cool jacket, says things like, “I don’t kill innocents,” and has a penchant for playing games with store workers, psychologically testing them before considering — and often enacting — extreme violence. But Anton Chigurh Clayton ain’t, and Dorff — despite intoning a depth in his delivery that is lacking in his dialogue — is no Javier Bardem. Still, by the time a brutal turn of events puts Shelby in Clayton’s passenger seat, Collateral-style, the duo’s destination — and indeed how we’ll be getting there — is a foregone conclusion.

Maggio and DP Nick Matthews capture some striking moments here that demonstrate the director’s potential and a keen sense of the desperation throttling blue-collar America. There’s a quiet, still encounter with a deer early on that leaves luscious greenery alarmingly stained with claret, while a shadowed figure emerging beneath porchlight after great violence offers a visceral analogue for the way death lives at the very doorstep of modern America. But ultimately, even with a game ensemble committing themselves to Maggio’s neo-Western noir milieu, platitudinous writing and increasingly frequent call-backs to more accomplished genre fare prove impossible to overcome. At one point, cutting across one of Clayton’s Chigurh-y dialectics, Shelby optimistically suggests, “There’s a world where all of this has meaning.” Unfortunately, Maggio hasn’t quite found it here.

In the world of Mob Land, nothing good lasts. Disappointingly, despite the cast’s best efforts and a few striking visual flourishes, nothing good lasts in the film itself either.
Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us