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Pretty Bad: 17.65%
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2 reviews, 5 user ratings

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Gomorrah (2008)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Buried With The Mob"
5 stars

Once upon a time, the late filmmaker Francois Truffaut opined that there was no real way that there could be such a thing as an “anti-war” movie on the basis that no matter how raw, brutal and harrowing their depictions of the reality of armed combat might have been intended, even those films ran the risk of providing viewers with the same kind of headlong visceral rush as the most unashamedly pro-war narrative if they were done well. (For example, “Apocalypse Now” may be anti-war in its sentiments but it is the helicopter attack on the village to the tune of “Ride of the Valkyries” that everyone remembers the most.) The same thing could be said for the gangster movie--ever since the genre achieved prominence in the early Thirties with the likes of “Public Enemy,” “Little Caesar“ and “Scarface--Shame of a Nation,” Hollywood has always maintained a fascination with organized crime that reached its apotheosis with Francis Ford Coppola’s “Godfather” films and even when someone has attempted to offer a corrective to those romanticized visions, as Martin Scorsese did with such lower-level observations of Mob activity as “Mean Streets” and “Goodfellas.” the characters have been so colorful and the violent scenes have been so excitingly conceived and executed that the more pointed criticisms of that particular lifestyle tend to get overlooked. One of the most fascinating things about “Gomorrah,” Matteo Garrone’s sprawling adaptation of the highly controversial 2006 book written by journalist Roberto Saviano, is that it manages to provide viewers with a look at the world of organized crime that is both completely deglamorized and utterly engrossing from start to finish.

While the vast majority of Mafia movies have centered on the Sicilian branch, which is the one that extended into America (and American pop culture) just before the dawn of the 20th century, “Gomorrah” focuses on the Neapolitan branch, a group that is known as Camorra, consists of about 100 or so barely organized gangs that are constantly at each others throats and who have their fingers in just about anything you could possibly imagine, by giving us five loosely intertwined storylines that serve to illustrate just how far, wide and deep their reach extends. In one, a young boy (Salvatore Abruzzese) falls in with a local gang because of the excitement and money without fully realizing what is expected of him in return until it is too late. In another, a pair of older boys (Marco Macor and Ciro Petrone) whose minds have been warped by the glamorized Hollywood visions of the mob--Brian De Palma’s “Scarface” being their key fetish--decide to form their own independent crime concern and are so giddy at the rush that they fal to recognize just how many dangerous people they are upsetting with their antic. Further up the ladder, a soft-spoken money runner (Gianfelice Imparato) grows weary of his job distributing funds to the families of those currently serving time in prison--most of them are bitter and complain about the meager allowances they are being offered in exchange for their loved ones--and begins to look for a possible way out. Elsewhere, a couple of smooth businessmen (Toni Servillo and Carmine Paternoster) arrange for companies to illegally dump their toxic waste in the valleys and quarries throughout the Naples area. Finally, a tailor (Salvatore Cantalupo) working in a Camorra controlled couture factory learns just how far his bosses will go to control their product when he agrees to surreptitiously teach a competitor how to make knockoff garments.

Although the opening sequence, in which a group of people are rubbed out while bathed in the gaudy lights of the tanning booths they are occupying, promises the kind of hyper-stylized violence and action that most viewers have come to expect from most gangster films, it quickly becomes apparent that this moment was actually a sly bit of misdirection on the part of Garrone and the numerous screenwriters (Saviano among them) to lure viewers in with a brief taste of the usual thrills before plunging them into an unfamiliar world. Here, the characters are, for the most part, either hateful brutes (like the punk kids or the various gang members who float in and out of the various stories) or hangdog bores methodically plugging away at their lives with all the enthusiasm of the ordinary businessmen that they look down upon. Here, death comes not in a stunningly choreographed set-piece scored to either grand opera or an ironically chosen pop tune, but in sudden bursts of brutality that begin and end so abruptly that those of us in the audience barely have time to register them. Here, the feeling that we get towards organized crime is not one of friendly camaraderie, high times living above the law or the idea that such organizations offer care and aid to the locals in ways that the law can’t or won’t--it gives us a vision of organized crime in which the accrual of money is sort important that it is willing to literally poison the people and the land (giving lie to the notion that they leave the innocent people out of their business) in order to make a bigger profit. All of this is conveyed by Garrone in a quietly spellbinding manner that eschews visual flash for a more straightforward approach that is aided immeasurably by a cast of actors who look and sound so authentic that it often feels as if we are actually watching a documentary.

Since “Gomorrah” doesn’t observe the traditional rules of the crime movie genre and since the narrative doesn’t play out in any of the expected ways--the individual stories don’t exactly tie together and their resolutions lack the tidiness that one might expect--it is likely that some viewers, especially the one who have long been enamored with more traditional mob movies, will come away from it feeling somewhat unsatisfied by its refusal to play by said rules. As much as I love those films and their flamboyant excesses, “Gomorrah” deserves to be put on the same shelf, even though its temperament couldn’t be more different, because it truly looks and feels like the real thing--so much so, in fact, that I bet that if he had been able to see it when he was a youngster, even Henry Hill himself might have found himself contemplating another career.

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originally posted: 02/27/09 16:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/12/17 morris campbell solid mafia flick from italy 4 stars
1/02/10 cmoore it's as disjointed and boring as the book 2 stars
10/11/09 action movie fan way too arty like most european films-not much of a plot 2 stars
5/13/09 damalc apparently, for me, something was lost in translation 2 stars
4/06/09 Sully The anti-glamour-romantiicized reality of organized crime. (Or why I don't ship to Italy) 5 stars
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  DVD: 24-Nov-2009


  DVD: 24-Nov-2009

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