A Quietly Intense Portrait of Italian Organized Crime
For as long as cinema has been a recognized form of entertainment, gangster films have been one of the most popular genres. From D.W. Griffith’s The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1915) to modern classics like The Godfather and Goodfellas, audiences have been astounded by the exploits of organized crime. There’s something escapist about everyday fellas making good at the expense of established society. Brought to America by the modern day king of the genre, Martin Scorsese, Gomorrah is a patient, and somber entry into the overcrowded mafia genre. While it doesn’t have the bombast and energy promised in the trailer, the documentary style approach separates it from the pack.
Gomorrah is set in a small lower class section of Naples, Italy in the midst of a brewing gang war between the established crime syndicate and the “separationists”, a group of young criminals looking to carve their own niche. The film tracks five different stories, each highlighting a different perspective: a garment maker who receives funding from the mob, two Scarface quoting teens looking to buck the system, a young package boy who has to choose a side, a corporate mogul who uses mob influence to dump dangerous chemicals and an old school don trying to scrape by.
While each story is interesting and has its own moments, the tale of the garment maker is by far the most interesting one. When asked by Chinese competitors to train their factory workers, he’s caught between loyalty to the people who fund his business and the admiration (and deep pockets) of his Asian pupils. This story has the most tension and provides some of the film’s best moments, including an exceptional conclusion. The other pieces tend to meld together, but the experience, as a whole, is more fascinating than exciting.
In fact, some of the movie is borderline boring. If I had to choose one thing I took away from Gomorrah, it would be this: gang life is just as mundane as your legit 9 to 5 job. Want to be a foot soldier in the Italian mob? Get ready for hours of pacing around waiting for nothing to happen. Glitz and glamour in a poor section of Southern Italy is rocking a designer t-shirt or cruising around in a modern car. There are no steady cam shots of Ray Liotta walking through the Copacabana’s kitchen or large Italian weddings. The world of Gomorrah is gritty and realistic, making for a genuine but slow moving 137 minutes. If you’re going in expecting gun battles, big heists and swimming pools of cash, you will be sorely disappointed.
Much like City of God, Gomorrah eschews large set pieces for a more honest portrayal of criminal life. The result brings us into a world few knew existed and while it may not be the pulse pounding crime film advertised, it’s still an intriguing and harrowing look into everyday criminal activity. For those who like their thieves with some swagger and hutzpah, you may want to leave this alone, but if you want a more realistic look into what it’s like to be a gangster, Gomorrah is a great place to start.
Score: 8 out of 10