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Montreal mafia series Bad Blood is bloody good

Like most Mafia/crime family dramas, Bad Blood is about more than crime, corruption and mayhem. It's about peace and orderly government and it's about family dynamics. Little wonder that in the movie You've Got Mail, the Tom Hanks character suggests the answers to all life's questions can be found in The Godfather. And in this case, it is based on a true story.

Bad Blood (CITY-TV stations, Thursday, 8 p.m.) is a six-part original series starring Anthony LaPaglia as Montreal mobster Vito Rizzuto. Based on the book Business or Blood: Mafia Boss Vito Rizzuto's Last War by Antonio Nicaso and Peter Edwards, it is a very superior docu-drama: gripping, richly textured and unfussily focused not just on the violent dynamics of a successful mob operation but on what happens when a strong leader is absent and the centre of power disintegrates. It is also, in a peculiar way, about Canada and our way of doing things. At its core, it is a cautionary tale about family – rebellious sons, protective fathers, hard work and the strain of keeping a family on the same page, following the same set of rules.

It begins with deft establishment of Rizzuto's firm grip on all manner of crime in Montreal and then begins to chronicle the bloody and hair-raising disintegration of his mob after he was indicted and imprisoned in the United States.

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As the drama tells it Rizzuto was the unchallenged boss at the centre of things because, as he declares, he "owns city hall." He means that politicians and bureaucrats are in his pocket, either through bribery or intimidation. His control means crime in Montreal – drugs, protection rackets, prostitution – is run as a co-operative. The crime gangs who leech off the city – the Irish, the Haitians, the bikers and others – do not intrude on each other's turf and Vito controls all of it because he has a government under his control. The co-operative thing is a very Canadian idea – there's room for everyone. Nobody wants mayhem because it's bad for everyone.

When Vito (LaPaglia, a solid character actor, is very good, capturing the quiet menace of a successful, old-school mobster) is imprisoned in far-away Colorado, the centre cannot hold, try as he might to issue orders from a prison cell. He'd always wanted his son, Nico (Brett Donahue), kept out of the mob business. He doesn't want him tainted but he also knows Nico lacks the calm, calculating and sinister demeanour to run things.

But with Vito in jail, Nico wants to take over. He insists that he represents "family" and is entitled to lead. This results in some rather laboured conversations about the meaning of "family" but the result is predictable – Nico lacks the subtle ways of his father and insults and intimidates all the wrong people. The dead bodies pile up, bringing undue attention and the delicate co-operative system falls apart.

While LaPaglia might be the imported star in a lead role, Bad Blood really belongs to Canadian Kim Coates as Vito's fixer and right-hand man, Declan. It is Declan who dominates once Vito is in jail and Coates really carries the series. Vito has always relied on him and, of course, Declan is the son-like figure Vito wishes he had. Coates is wonderful, oozing both threat and cunning and is particularly good when he grasps that he is being browbeaten by the Rizzuto family into accepting that Nico must reign while he, Declan, is a mere soldier and servant.

The series moves briskly, using voice-overs and flashbacks to draw together the many strands of a sprawling tale of a business empire that had its tentacles in almost every aspect of life in Montreal. There is plenty of action, violence and it moves along with a propulsive force while maintaining, tactfully, a meditation on family, business ethics and the essence of soft power.

Eventually, of course, it deals with the calamitous revenge that Rizzuto attempted. At six episodes, it is far from an epic but it certainly is high-grade crime drama and great credit is due to writer/creator Simon Barry and writer Michael Konyves. Apart from Coates – who also stars in the upcoming Netflix series Godless), the series also gives some good Canadian actors – including Donahue, Angela Asher and Tony Nappo – great material to sink their teeth into.

The female roles tend to coalesce around wife/girlfriend/mistress parts, but that's going to happen in a male-centric mob drama based on real events. Mind you, Maxim Roy and Michelle Mylett make the most of their roles as the competing, older and younger mistresses, vying for top place in Vito's affections and life. Bad Blood is bloody good and highly recommended, a startlingly vivid view of a Mafia dynasty in our own midst.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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