Envelopes of money exchanged for political favors. Cash paid for back-door deals. Construction contracts handed out for those who bribed elected officials. Sound like an episode of “The Sopranos”? Worse. Welcome to New Jersey, where politics and corruption go hand-in-hand.
The documentary takes viewers on a wild ride of political power and corruption that started when New Jersey was still a colony. The film exposes elected officials who ran on platforms promising to end the very practices they now find themselves behind bars for. The real organized crime in New Jersey is committed by the politicians.
The film features interviews and commentary from the attorneys, politicians, federal prosecutors and journalists who witnessed it all. The film is narrated by Tony Darrow, who has played in a variety of films, including The Sopranos and Goodfellas.
“The Soprano State: New Jersey’s Culture of Corruption” strikes a lighthearted, if cynical, tone as it reviews some of the worst recent scandals. The documentary presents itself as a nightclub act, with Tony Darrow, who played small parts in “The Sopranos” and “Goodfellas,” narrating from a stage while lounge-lizard music is piped in. But the message of the film, based on the 2008 book of the same name by the longtime Trenton reporters Bob Ingle and Sandy McClure, is relentlessly bleak.
In interviews with journalists, politicians, lawyers and F.B.I. agents, the film, directed by Peter LeDonne, argues that the problem is much, much more than the occasional bad apple. It’s the whole orchard: New Jersey politics, it contends, is built on a “pay for play” framework of kickbacks for access, legislation and contracts. Corruption occurs in every state, but, as Mr. Ingle notes ruefully, “somehow in the last 10 years New Jersey has zoomed past everyone.”