Growing up in a family of crooks in a city emblazoned with crime and corruption is one thing; getting out is a whole other story. The documentary Five-Finger Discount is based on Helene Stapinski’s best-selling true-life memoir about growing up in a family whose 4 generations of murderers, swindlers, bookies, corrupt politicians and mobster wannabes made their way in Jersey City, New Jersey, the poster child for 20th century urban sleaze. What makes the story and the documentary unique is the interweaving of this family’s often-sordid saga with Jersey City’s notorious environment under the rule of Mayor Frank “I Am the Law” Hague and his City Hall machine – the gold standard for urban corruption. The film dramatically shows how the climate created at the top of the city grid trickled down to everyday family life at the bottom, affecting not only the players but their kin.
What’s more, this story of the blending of the personal with the political is told — maybe for the first time — from a working-class woman’s point of view.
Today, Helene is a New York Times journalist and best-selling author, living in brownstone Brooklyn with her husband and children. How did she get from there to here? And how did Jersey City leave its grimy past in the dust to become the newest New York-area haven for millennials, artists and hipsters? With a documentary’s nod to On The Waterfront, Five-Finger Discount uses Stapinski’s first-person narration, vérité footage, intimate interviews, expert commentary and powerful stock footage to bring a working-class woman’s voice and her unique, amazing story to audiences far and wide.