Directed by: Matteo Garrone
Written by: Maurizio Braucci (screenplay),Roberto Saviano (book)
Starring: Toni Servillo, Marco Macor, Ciro Petrone, and Salvatore Abruzzese
I try not let the reputation of a movie influence me before I watch it, but in the case of Gomarrah, it’s hard not to. Hailed by many critics as a new masterpiece in the gangster genre and presented by Martin Scorsese, Matteo Garrone’s film had a lot to live up to. For many it seems to have done that, but as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t live up to the tremendous hype garnered by those accolades. To be fair, though, it’s still an enjoyable film that deserves a viewing.
The explosive novel of the same name by Roberto Saviano tore open the modern world of organized crime in Naples, forcing the author to go into exile to escape the wrath of the Camorra crime syndicate. In a book that was unafraid to name names even in the face of death, a Hollywood adaptation just wouldn’t seem right.
Mr. Garrone has given the film a perfect visual look, visceral and gritty with moments of cinematic eloquence. We see a young boy (Salvatore Abruzzese) watch a man be hauled off by the authorities in almost documentary-realism. Then the boy spots what the man claimed to not have, a gun and some narcotics. He journeys to it, the camera giving a striking long shot that tracks him to the vices. The shot makes the boy’s world look eloquent, like the gangster worlds created in movies like The Godfather and Scarface. We see the corruption of a soul, in two blending styles.
This is Garrone’s gift as a director. Unfortunately, pacing isn’t. Though the movie opens with quite a bang, the rest of the first half can be tedious and a little mundane. It sets up the many competing narratives, including the young boy, two independent dimwits (Marco Macor and Ciro Petrone) hell-bent on taking from the gang, and a businessman (Toni Servillo) looking for a place to dump his waste, both human and chemical.
Most prominently, Gomorrah explores the concept of waste- how we become it and how we dispose of it. In perhaps the most crucial scene in the film, an assistant to the waste-dumping businessman has dumped out gifted fruit because of how contaminated it has become by their waste. He wants out of the endeavor, but Servillo’s character tries to convince him to say. He tells them how the mob exists just to solve the problems of others. Garrone films this scene in closeup, but we see the dying countryside in the background.
This scene speaks to the heart of the Comorra’s arrogance and disillusionment, but that doesn’t make any of what is said less true. The scope of the film shows the wide breadth of infiltration that this gang has achieved. We see them present in the world of elegant fashion as well as weapons dealing and narcotics. Garrone’s direction is brilliant at meshing all of these components effectively. A lesser director would’ve stumbled more.
In showing an unapologetic view on the effects of violence and the waste of the human soul, Gomorrah does it’s duty. It feels unlike any American crime movie, which is not always a good thing. However, go out and watch this version before some big studio destroys it much like God did with the biblical city of the title.