“Gomorra” is a fictionalized adaptation of an Italian crime expose, but it plays like an angry cinema verite document of mob life.
Roberto Saviano’s riveting best seller tore the lid off Naples’ murderous Camorra crime family, the cousin of Sicily’s Cosa Nostra. It was quite a piece of journalism, unglamorous, viciously unsentimental, and now the author lives under 24-hour police protection.
In the hard-boiled film version, professional actors mingle with local kids and actual Cammora thugs, several of whom have since been arrested for crimes like those they perform on screen. To say the film has an aura of authenticity is understating it. It’s gripping, occasionally terrifying, but unlikely to be anyone’s favorite movie. Is there such a thing as too real?
Writer/director Matteo Garrone’s film records daily life under a brutal crime regime as dispassionately as an X-ray revealing cancer. This is a movie made of raw, impressionistic scenes, not a plot. Garrone throws us into the thick of things without a road map, insisting that work things out for ourselves, sink or swim.
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The story is a constant, bloody struggle for money and power set in a prison-like housing project, scrubby public parks and garment industry sweat shops. Here we encounter the men trying to get into the mob, survive it or escape it. Marco and Ciro are loose cannons with a taste for chaos who wave guns, shout Al Pacino’s lines from “Scarface,” and stage impulsive robberies. Don Ciro, a Camorra bag man, doles out payoffs to families of jailed Mafiosi, a once-routine clerking job growing increasingly dangerous.
University student Roberto becomes a junior executive, applying his chemical training with a mob toxic waste subsidiary that is poisoning his hometown. Toto, a grocery delivery boy from the projects, takes up drug dealing as unselfconsciously as if it were skateboarding. The characters’ stories don’t intersect, and the episodic narrative allows little character development, but the film evokes a panorama of greed and betrayal. Garrone’s world view is dark and disconcerting, but not hopeless. Several characters move away from lives of mob control.
“Gomorra” is stark and powerful filmmaking, a welcome alternative to romanticized American mob melodramas.