Directed by Matteo Garrone. Starring Salvatore Abruzzese, Toni Servillo, Gianfelice Imparato, Maria Nazionale, Carmine Paternoster, Salvatore Cantalupo, Marco Macor, Ciro Petrone. (2008, NR, 136 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 27, 2009
Based on Roberto Saviano's bestselling exposé about the Italian crime machine known as the Camorra, Gomorrah (pun intended) is riveting from its first frame to its last. As a deromanticizing of the myth of the suave, Michael Corleone-style gangster icon, the film is overwhelmingly effective. But considering that what you're seeing is, essentially, what's actually happening in and around Naples right now, Gomorrah begins to feel more like a weird, Jodorowsky-esque surrealist nightmare. It's amoebic in its portrayal of the society-wrecking, viral nature of organized crime, and it has no room for sentimentality or even, in the end, hope. For sure, it's a violent gangster movie; it doesn't glamorize the lifestyle one bit. (Saviano, who had a hand in the screenplay, has been under police protection since his book was published three years ago.) Shot in a flat, unobtrusive documentary style by cinematographer Marco Onorato, Gomorrah weaves together five separate storylines, all of which, in turn, revolve around a seedy, crumbling tenement on the outskirts of Naples. There's 13-year old Totò (Abruzzese), an inherently good kid sucked into the vortex of the Camorra when he does some low-level hoods a semiaccidental favor involving a misplaced handgun. There are two Scarface-quoting teenage lamebrains, Marco (Macor) and Ciro (Petrone), who scheme to steal a cache of weaponry from some other local hoods, with predictably disastrous results. And then there are the weasely, hapless moneyman Don Ciro (Imparato); his unctuous, casually evil boss, Franco (Servillo); and, finally, Pasquale (Cantalupo), a frazzled haute-couture tailor who's in a bind over how to keep up with the protection money he owes the Camorra. All the characters are brilliantly delineated, the grimy plazas and parking garages equally, drably arresting. This film is gorgeous like a corpse, but there's no rigor mortis yet; it moves to the inexorable beat of 9mm slugs hitting human meat. Director Garrone's unflinching portrait of a very real hell on earth won the Grand Prix at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival (plus a boatload of other awards), but this isn't some pomo arthouse picture looking to score points by subverting the gangster paradigm; it's a killer film about killers who idolize film but are unable or unwilling to parse the doom that always crops up come Act III. "Gomorrah: See Naples and die," or, more accurately "Gormorrah: See Naples die."