Matteo Garrone‘s new film, Gomorrah, does for organized crime what the wife beater does for Jay-Z. It brings it back home. The Italian academy award entry, equal parts Antonioni, Versace, and Mussolini, is a fictional, naked look at an Italian mafia organization whose influence spreads farther than comfort would allow.
Mob movies are all glamor and glory. Two street kids with more delusions of grandeur than body fat remind us of this early on when they argue over which of them is actually Tony Montana. Despite the “Martin Scorsese presents…” intro, it’s clear Garrone would watch The Killing of a Chinese Bookie over Casino any day. We don’t get long shots of men in suits sitting at last supper tables discussing hiding guns in restaurant bathrooms. We get an old man and a child emerging from under an abandoned gas station where they were evaluating what fuel reserves were left behind. The little they find isn’t worth taking.
Gaza strip gas station underworks are just the first shovel full. Project apartment complexes, buildings that look like 1992 Bosnia, and dump trucks driven by children circling toxic landfills get us much closer to the six-foot mark. And so Gomorrah goes.
The stories feature a handful of characters, independently walking their own paths, with little regard for what and who they might cross. A professional tailor, an executive apprentice, a grocery delivery boy, blood thirsty youths. Their stories run the gamut of criminal mob activities, from drug dealing and protection rackets to clothing manufacturing, and waste management. Brutality doesn’t favor the former any more than the latter; death runs throughout.
The weaving of multiple dramatic stories connecting seemingly disparate walks of life feels a bit like 21 Grams, a film which nobody has really forgotten, but which no one really talks about anymore either. The linking vignettes style that was all the rage in the 90s feels dated now. Gomorrah’s being something of a modern take on a classic subject, is both at odds with the style, and it’s saving grace. The film is dead-set on stretching boundaries and that’s exactly what it does best.
Ten righteous men in Gomorrah would have saved it from God’s wrath. The angels only found four.