I've seen quite a few films centered around the mafia life over the years, however, I've not seen many as unique in their narrative as Joseph Pupello's feature directorial debut Dress Code, an intriguing motion picture starring Gerard Garilli as Bobby Russo. Born into the life of organized crime, Bobby grows up being taught the mafia traditions of absolute loyalty, personal honor, and respect. While it's a challenge to tackle the mafia theme - I mean, let's be real, it's a genre of film tackled by some of the best filmmakers out there - working off of a script by Peter Panagos, Pupello has crafted a film with a unique story to tell and a story that is brought powerfully to life by his ensemble cast.
It's difficult to describe Dress Code without giving away the film's secrets. Suffice it to say that Bobby is a man of secrets and as he becomes more and more immersed in the family business those secrets begin to impact his daily life, how he functions in the family business, and his respect for himself. As Bobby, Garilli gives an incredibly engaging performance as a man convincingly dedicated to the life in which he grew up yet also remarkably different in profound ways. This was an incredibly difficult role to pull off and Garilli does so with a remarkable mixture of intensity, vulnerability, and inner turmoil. It's truly an impressive effort.
Maria Marinaro shines as Claire, Bobby's partner and close confidante whose voice of reason is welcomed by Bobby even if his commitment to self-preservation means he's hiding more than she can possibly imagine from her. As Bobby's abusive father, Freddie Maas is uncomfortably riveting with an emotional intensity not easily forgotten.
Others who shine include Frank Osso as Bobby's accepting uncle Rocco, Alex Di Trolio as Bobby's doting and protective mother Joyce, and Edward John Socienski as "Allie Boy," a mobster with a relentless commitment to move up the family chain by any means necessary.
Lensing by Andrew Froening vacillates between surprising intimacy and absolute brutality and captures the emotional complexity and mutliple layers of the inspired script from Panagos. Even after it becomes apparent what makes Dress Code so unique, this is still a film that keeps you hanging on from beginning to end.
There are a million ways that Dress Code could have gone wrong. It never does. While Dress Code isn't a film that will replace the true greats in the genre, it's a film that will be remembered for having the balls to take an overly familiar genre and make it feel fresh again.
Already having picked up three awards in the January 2023 Oniros Film Awards (Best Actor, Best 1st Time Director, and Best Screenplay), Dress Code is the kind of indie film project destined to be talked about in indie film fests and also destined to not be easily forgotten. For those seeking out bold, fresh filmmaking with a unique story and a strong ensemble, Dress Code is definitely a film to watch for at a festival near you.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic