In this hard-hitting true crime documentary, ABC News Studios takes an unflinching look at the life of infamous New York Mafia underboss, Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, as it interviews both the man himself and those who were most affected by his ruthless lifestyle. Take a deep dive into the psychology of a man who did anything to honour the rules of his “family”, then betrayed them all by cooperating with the government to bring down his bossJohn Gotti…
This is without a doubt one of the most recent productions I’ve ever reviewed, with this 2-hour (although it comes in at around 82 minutes on Disney+ without ads) TV special originally aired on ABC News in January of this year. It only surfaced on Disney+ in the UK on July 22nd. And in all honesty, I was a little unsure as to what to expect. The description is so vague as to be pointless, while I’ve watched a fair few documentaries created for American commercial television over the years that were annoyingly padded and struggled to maintain momentum on their chosen subject. Thankfully, if this is the kind of quality we should expect from the fledgling ABC News Studios, then we’re off to a very promising start.
Truth and Lies: The Last Gangster is not padded. It does occasionally reuse tiny sound bites but they’re chopped up and recontextualised well enough that it never feels like a glaring issue. The centrepiece of this documentary is actually archive footage. More specifically, an in-depth interview conducted with Gravano by ABC way back in 1997 (incidentally lining this production up with the 25th anniversary). Key moments from this older programme are cut up and spliced into this 82-minute running time. The difference in picture quality is a little jarring at first but the content of said clips is interesting enough that it wasn’t too distracting for me personally. Be warned that your mileage may vary though.
Of course, if this television special merely coasted on something that was recorded more than 2 decades ago, it wouldn’t feel like it’s earned its existence in 2022. No, what makes this documentary riveting is the myriad of people that are brought in to give their opinion on “The Bull”. This ranges from journalists who covered his rise and fall in real time to friends and family scrambling to reconcile the man they believe they know with the cold-blooded killer who was eventually exposed and even former mob members who “worked” alongside the underboss in his heyday. Coming from so many angles helps to construct a more complete picture of who Sammy “The Bull” Gravano actually is, even if the hint of romanticism for this era of mobsters by some of the guests who were deepest in that lifestyle can make you feel uneasy at times.
And perhaps it is the dual nature of a gangster like the subject of this special that makes him such a fascinating individual to dissect psychologically. Even the public seem torn on Gravano to this day. In fact, if you go and find that interview from 1997 on YouTube, many of the comments praise him as charismatic, handsome and honourable. I even saw one trying to dispute his status as a ‘serial killer’ (make no mistake on this front, killing 19 people makes you one by the literal definition of the word, no matter how you want to dress it up).
My point is that the world of the Mafia is so at odds with itself that it can present an illusionary veneer of respectability and honour while being a viciously ruthless lifestyle that either devours you or pushes you to devour everyone around you. This documentary illustrates this perfectly whilst allowing everyone to speak their mind. For example, the children of these various key figures are allowed to defend their fathers on multiple occasions. They may often come across as delusional for doing so but there is no attempt to “prove them wrong”, as such. This adds a touch of raw honesty to proceedings that should be commended.
With all of that said, however, that doesn’t mean I’d recommend this to everyone. Thanks to a heavy reliance on the “talking heads” interview style, I could see the format becoming somewhat repetitive and boring for some viewers. In fairness, no single individual is ever focused on for too long a period (apart from perhaps the contemporary interview portions with the now-elderly Gravano) and the snappy editing keeps the pace up but this definitely won’t appeal to all subscribers.
In summary, Truth and Lies: The Last Gangster really does live up to its title. It takes a deep dive into perhaps the most infamous Mafia member of modern times. It expertly mixes archive footage with new interviews to present “the truth” as many different people (including the man himself) see it and then trusts the viewer to make their own decision. It definitely won’t interest a huge audience but if you’re a fan of true crime analysis, this is a very solid way to spend your time.
Ranking: 4 stars out of 5
Disney Plus Presentation
Truth and Lies: The Last Gangster is available on Disney+ in a maximum resolution of 1080p Full HD on compatible devices. As this is a relatively recent TV special for the ABC Network, it has not received a physical release as of writing.
Truth and Lies: The Last Gangster does not currently include an “Extras” tab on its page as of writing, meaning that not even the standard “promo clip” is available.
Presentation Ranking: 4 stars out of 5
“Truth and Lies: The Last Gangster” is available to stream on Disney+ now in many countries including the UK and Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, the Netherlands, Spain and more. It is scheduled to come to Disney+ in Canada on August 19th, 2022. U.S. readers will find the documentary on Hulu.
What are your thoughts on “Truth and Lies: The Last Gangster”?