Five years ago Michael Ricigliano had an idea for a script, and decided he never wanted to lament what might have been. Taking care of his part from his basement as a Long Island lawyer, the old adage of who you know got him to the next step. “I think he read my script more as a courtesy to our mutual friend,” said Ricigliano of Federico Castelluccio, who played Furio on the Sopranos. Of course, being able to write what he knew proved the most important factor in forever keeping any regrets at bay.
“My father would tell me all the stories of what it was like to grow up in Brooklyn,” says Ricigliano, and that helped provide the backstory he tapped into in creating The Brooklyn Banker, which sat Castelluccio in the director’s chair for both the short and the new feature.Set in the 1970s, the changing Williamsburg’s neighborhood serves as the backdrop and puts the title character in the crosshairs between mob influence and legitimacy. “The film is about a legitimate guy who gets pulled in mob circles, and how he uses his wits to get through it,” says Ricigliano of Santo Bastucci (Troy Garity).
Santo’s ensnarement lends authenticity to a story that does not seek to glorify the mob. A banker who has a knack for numbers, the local gangsters see a possible asset, according to Ricigliano. “If you could keep numbers in your head, there’s no ledger,” he says, and that was crucial as RICO laws were coming into practice.
Pressure comes to bear – especially from his father-in-law who is played by screen legend Paul Sorvino – and Santo learns that the streets aren’t the only things that run one way. “If you do the mob a favor or they do you a favor, they got you. They’re not going to let you go,” says Ricigliano.
Real life in those days, though, weren’t quite so dramatic for the Ricigliano family. “The mob guys were in the neighborhood. You knew them, and it was a conversation. But it was kind of matter of fact,” he says.
A closer family parallel comes in the form of his uncle. He was a priest at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, and the annual feast plays a large part in the film’s look at change during the era. “The feast represents honor and tradition, and the Italians are trying to hold on to the neighborhood as the demographic shifts,” says Ricigliano.
The mob and the church certainly have different visions in regards to hanging on, but the actual shoot had director and writer going over the top together. “It wasn’t like, ‘here’s the script, do whatever you want,’” says Ricigliano. “I was on set since the beginning, and we have been on the same page all along.”On the other hand, Castelluccio is all by himself when it came to a taking a blank sheet and putting it in motion. “Normal people have a story board. He draws all his story boards. It’s magnificent. He sees it and then he shoots it,” says Ricigliano of Castelluccio, who was born in Naples and trained as an artist.
At the same time, envisioning Paul Sorvino delivering lines is a nearly incomprehensible distance from banging out dialogue in a basement. “When there’s guys like these that you grew up watching, and all of a sudden, they are speaking your words – it’s surreal,” he beamed.
David Proval, Arthur J. Nascarella and Carmine Raspaolo bringing the Bada Bing too, a lack of lineage on the part of Garity definitely doesn’t take anything away. “Growing up in Southern California and the son of Jan Fonda, he just transformed himself into an Italian American from Brooklyn with all the cadence and nuance,” he says.
Veteran of numerous television roles, John Bedford Lloyd of Bedford, NY plays his heritage straight up, while being anything but in his portrayal of Boston Secret Service Agent Cahil. “He plays like a scatterbrain, says Ricigliano. “But knows exactly what he’s doing. He asks all the wrong questions and still gets his point across.”
The final star, while inanimate, definitely has a pulse. “People who have seen the movie and are from that time, say this is exactly the way it looked,” says Ricigliano. “That to me is a great compliment.”
In the can and ready to play, Ricigliano assures that credits aren’t just reserved for rolling across the screen. “This takes a lot of time, and my wife realizes the dream I had. She’s been super supportive and I wouldn’t be here without her,” he concludes.
The Brooklyn Banker opened on Thursday Aug 5 at Cinema Village in Manhattan and in 10 other cities across the country. It will go to video on demand moving forward.
This article originally appeared on RM Entertainment
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Photo credit: IMDb