“Mob Land” is a rather misleading title for a strong rural drama that’s the directorial debut of Nicholas Maggio, who also co-wrote the screenplay. Rather than some Jersey or Vegas-centered shoot-em-up, it focuses on a down and out small town in northern Alabama, wracked with opioid ODs, joblessness and lack of hope.

There, a mechanic and part-time stock car driver just out of a job agrees to join his wayward brother-in-law’s cockeyed plan to knock off a local pill mill, on the argument that they’d be putting the bad guys out of business while helping their own financial situation. 

Everything goes wrong, of course, and they find themselves targeted by the New Orleans crime syndicate that set up the operation that they fleeced. 

The enforcer that goes after them (Stephen Dorff) seems that he’d be dangerous enough  to wipe out everybody involved in the crime-on-crime, judging from the opening scene where he tears up a delinquent gun shop, 

But it turns out the quirky hood has his own complicated moral code (he won’t kill the innocent, he says), even as he earnestly tries to find out why people live the way they do in the town they’re in as he eventually tries to find out purpose in life himself.

Dorff is very good at this kind of character — gruff, low voiced, hard to get ruffled. If the tough guy routine ever seems cliched, at least his boss calls him on it, telling him this Johnny Cash / Steve McQueen stuff is played out. 

Dorff is flanked by a couple of great cast additions, with Kevin Dillon — Johnny Drama himself! — as the wayward in-law, and no less than John Travolta, settling into his gruff, elder, bald-headed self as the local sheriff who suddenly has a lot of action in his sleepy town. It’s one of his best roles in years and they all do a first rate job. 

At the center of the tale is Shiloh Fernandez as the mechanic turned reluctant wheel man, who signs onto the job ostensibly to help his family, but has his family’s future held in threat as he’s forced to help Dorff’s clean-up plan. 

All of this could have been some rote, fast-moving, blood-spilling fare from beginning to end, but Maggio gives a more measured tempo, with no less underlying dread and anticipation, as one would find in a Coen Brothers film.

While celebrating aspects of rural Southern life, from race car culture to wide open spaces, Maggio also touches on something real, from the pang of hopelessness to the scourge of the drug crisis, all unfolding on a Southern Gothic landscape that is both appealing and appalling — where a rural pond is both a place for quiet reflection and later, a natural spot to drop a body.

It makes for not just a decent, brooding entertainment but portends to a career to keep an eye on.


“Mob Land” is available to rent on demand, on services such as Apple TV, Prime Video, Google Play, YouTube and Vudu.