REVIEW: Gomorra [2008]

“This is open war”

The new, highly touted, yet Oscar foreign film shortlist snubbed, Italian gangster epic Gomorra has a laundry list of credited screenwriters. When one of them is the author of the novel it’s based on, you have to enter with a little trepidation, because if rewrites and collaboration are needed to fix “problems” from the originator, Roberto Saviano, the only thing that can result are more problems. Now, this is a speculation on my part, I don’t know the reasoning for all the writers; what I do know is what I thought of the film, though. It is a definite success at showing the lifestyle, violence, and lack of remorse in this world, but more often than not becomes a bit jumbled for my tastes. We are following five very specific storylines that all have common characters and/or intertwine at some point and, while each comes to a satisfactory conclusion, the editing of all together can be confusing. Maybe that is because it’s in Italian and you very rarely get a handle on people’s names, (I still have no idea whether the two punks trying to become their own bosses even had names); either way I’ll admit to some disorientation.

Gangster films are not necessarily my cup of tea as far as cinematic genres go. True I love Scorsese like the next guy, but I also didn’t think City of God was as brilliant as most—great, but not a perfect film. I believe Gomorra shares a lot of similarities with that Brazilian depiction of crime, cinematically and thematically. It is a gritty, grimy world, civil war between rival drug gangs breaking out in the neighborhoods and extending their reach even further. You have families being financially supported by one side seeing their children defect to the other, an unforgivable move that sees the monetary boost cut off immediately. Kids turn against people that trust them in order to fit into the gang and stake claim on the huge cash flow moving in and out of hands. One of my favorite scenes is concerning the boy Toto; as he waits for his fee, dropping off groceries to a local women, he sees the money being exchanged for doses of drugs. The look on his face, seeing the stacks of cash in their hands and the lone coin in his, tells the tale succinctly.

Toto’s, an honest portrayal from Salvatore Abruzzese, evolution from local kid to uneasily willing gang participant is just one of the five plot threads we become privy to on this harrowing journey. The other puzzle pieces include the before-mentioned “tough guy” duo, (I use quotes, and you’ll see why around the midpoint of the film), just causing trouble and getting themselves in the bad graces of people much more influential than they could ever be; my favorite character Pasquale, played by Salvatore Cantalupo, who has been used in the counterfeit clothing trade since he was a boy, trying to make a little extra cash by selling his skill and trade to the Chinese; Franco and his new assistant Roberto, (an interesting turn from Carmine Paternoster that always shows him contemplative and worried about what he is doing), finding land and dumping drug manufacturing waste, facilitating all who need it; and Gianfelice Imparato’s Don Ciro, the money collector for the old regime that is rapidly being replaced by its competitors, putting him in mortal danger as he just tries to hand out money to the families in “retirement”. Each thread could make their own very interesting film, so putting them all together may be too much, but kudos to the director Matteo Garrone for allowing each to breathe free and conclude their respective arcs.

The unflinching look into this underbelly of the drug trade, hitting home at the end when you find that the crime world here actually invests in US projects including the new Twin Tower site, is tough to watch at times. Everyone is out for himself and allegiances change when one’s wellbeing is threatened. It really comes down to who can protect you more, the men you’ve worked with your entire life, or the enemy they are fighting a war with. No one can ever really win this war; it is a civil unrest as though the city’s very existence relies on drugs—its main staple and source of money. Each person’s life needs the illegal trade to survive, even those trying to stay out of it, (a nice moment with an elderly gentlemen telling Don Ciro he needs more money to support the son that he’s shielded from the life and is now unemployed at 40 shows this … hadn’t he done enough himself for them to deserve more?). Even a life seemingly on the straight and narrow is backed by dirty money, laundered into legal businesses, the filth not quite cleaned off.

Watching a kid like Toto fall prey to the neighborhood boys and peer pressure to join them, or very literally die if not, is eye-opening. These kids don’t really have a choice. When skilled crafts, such as wardrobe and fashion work, utilized by Pasquale, are owned by the mob, where else can you go? I look at Roberto and see how all the death, cheating, and stealing finally begins to eat away at him. He grows lethargic and unfocused, wondering if what he is doing is right. His father was so happy that Franco allowed him to join up with such a lucrative business. It becomes a question of whether even he knew what that business did, or if everyone is that naïve to the horrible things going on. Sometimes you do just need to quit and walk away, never to return, or else slowly watch your life degenerate into an empty shell devoid of compassion for humanity.

Gomorra 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Courtesy of the official Gomorra website.


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