The polished portrayal and slight glorification of the workings of the criminal underworld has been dramatized in movies such as “The Godfather” and in the hit HBO smash “The Sopranos”. Director Matteo Garrone’s “Gomorrah” is a film based on the novel by Roberto Saviano that identifies events very similar to historical ones compared to the Scampia feud. This Italian crime saga attempts to dispense of the lure of glory, riches and power by presenting an undaunted look at the inner dealings of the Camorra crime organization.
The film is a collection of intertwining tales of the different people from different walks of life. The lives of a grocery delivery boy who wants to get a taste of criminal life, a tailor who has connections with the criminal underworld, two cocky teenagers who dream of becoming crime lords, two working business men who make their profit in dumping toxic waste and a man who distributes cash; all these people struggle to make ends meet all the while being influenced by the mob whether directly or indirectly. They try to make their reputation and money under the shadow of the Camorra.
Matteo Garrone’s film may hold some similarities to the crime epic “City of God” with the manner he shoots his film. The film’s look and atmosphere exude that very realistic and gritty feel that sidesteps the polished look that mainstream audiences have gotten used to over the years. The film’s focused is five intertwined stories that exposes different corrupting and seductive elements that can affect the young naïve mind. The film is a powerful look on the destructive effects of the corrupt, the greedy and the callous activities encouraged by this criminal network.
The film goes into the beginnings of a criminal in the personas of the two teenagers, Marco and Ciro (Marco Macor and Ciro Petrone) and Toto (Salvatore Abruzzese), the 13-year old delivery boy who gets a taste of the lifestyle; while one ending abruptly and the other showing its advancements. The tailor, Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo) and the cash dealer, Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato) are timid individuals who many may say that they are ‘stuck’ with their situation. Roberto (Carmine Paternoster) is young man who works for Franco (Tony Servillo) who dumps illegal waste on unused patches of land for the sake of making huge amounts of profit. Garrone brings his observational perspective in his fragmented style filmmaking that just brings his viewers into the world of the mob in the beginning, the present and the future of its many dealings. It is a bleak and unflinching vision as to what the Camorra has done to Italy that threatens to wring every cent off its citizens.
The film’s dialogue is accompanied by the use of incredible close-ups to bring the film’s emotions right into the face of the viewer. I thought this was a very clever move for Garrone to bring us into the depths of conversations that gives the viewer a feeling of ‘being there’. The film starts off on a high note with a mob hit then it takes a slower pace as we see Marco and Ciro imitating “Scarface”, Don Ciro going about his daily routine and so forth. The film is a little bit of a slow burn, the energy slowly exudes from its slow build up and lets the scenes come about naturally. “Gomorrah” is very realistic so expect no polished use of colors, style and elaborate visual manipulation, the film is as straight-forward as it can be with its portrayal. The film has a fair share of violence and the more I thought about it, it may not be as disturbing as to how the violence is all connected under one strong inevitable force of nature.
The performances in the film are very good. Marco Macor and Ciro Petrone almost takes the show as they represent the raw stupidity fueled by sheer cockiness that turns them into outcasts of society. They are power hungry (they want to be Tony Montana) and mad for blood, as they wish to make their reputation. Toto (played by Abruzzese) gets a taste of mob life through his own set of rules, not by making waves but through obedience and respect; the young actor manages to bring forth a likeable yet so disturbing personality in the film’s script. The recent under-grad , Roberto (played by Paternoster) represents something unnerving as even sensible, level-headed individuals can be dragged into illegal activities when the situation presents itself. Much as the film goes into the other dealings of the Camorra, I thought the manner with which Garrone brings the ‘youthful’ perspective into play is the film’s main strength; the young people are after all, any nation’s future.
“Gomorrah” sidesteps any glamorization of the criminal underworld and unrelentingly paints a very real ‘truth’. The film is a powerful anti-mob movie, and while it does take some inspiration from glamorous Hollywood mob films such as “Scarface” and “Good Fellas”, it educates us with its raw unflinching message. It doesn’t give us a reason to see ‘crime’ as something necessary or a lifestyle, but provokes a thought and a reaction with the bleakness of its premise. It paints a painful reality that when Garrone closes his film, I was awed with the fact that these intertwined stories were touched upon by truth. The film is a gut-wrenching crime drama that packs a lot of visceral punch. Garrone makes it even more powerful with its realistic natural-looking visuals that almost looks like a documentary. Compelling, haunting and brutally realistic, Matteo Garrone's “Gomorrah” nicely blends brutal violence, melodrama and art house sensibilities that it earns a highly recommended rating from me.
Highly Recommended! [4+ Stars]
Criterion boasts of a very nice if grainy 2.35 ratio anamorphic widescreen that was shot intentionally to look a little dirty to capture a realistic feel. The 5.1 Dolby Digital Italian track is very powerful as it captures the gunfire and the noises of water very nicely. Subtitles are excellent.
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