Although it sounds like a venereal disease, Gomorrah is a bold and bolshy Italian flick, catapulting you into the world of organised crime and leaving you in there with no hope of escape. It’s like the Godfather mixed with The Hills, a film portraying a reality show while teetering on the brink of being a standard documentary.
Before I throw any more genres into the mix, let me explain. Gomorrah is based on a book written by Roberto Saviano, which unearthed the underbelly of a gritty crime syndicate with fingers in pies that were so wide you’d be surprised how close Joe Public is to standing in them. The non-fiction book became a best seller, and the author became the target of death threats. Naturally making a film about it was the next step.
The structure is familiar in the mafia way, a sprawling plot with multiple characters that doesn’t lend itself to things like a narrator, meaning you’re left to fend for yourself as an at first seemingly endless spray of different people are shown to you. It’s only as the film picks up that you start to spot each character group and get yourself embroiled in their stories, each capturing a different component of the massive organisation. Drugs, weapons and violent family wars mixed with waste disposal, property and textile manufacturing.
But director Matteo Garrone goes for an original approach for the mafia genre, wedging his camera among the action, sometimes peeping round corners or over balconies, sometimes failing to capture everything because it’s too dark, or because the car in which you’re situated has driven off. The effect is piping hot reality, which makes the more violent aspects of the story more jarringly explosive. Not that this is a blood fuelled romp, the majority of action being heated conversations or nervous walks with bullet proof vests.
The language barrier does poke a hole in all the fun, some portions of dialogue seemingly left to your imagination, which is a great shame. The banter between two of the characters – young teens who are bigger than their boots – would probably spark off the screen if translated correctly. But hey – that’s the price we pay for not everyone in the world speaking my language. Damn them all.
Gomorrah’s impact increases when you realise it is fact, and the closing paragraphs detailing the extent of their involvement in the world we know does make you stop and think. But the huge array of characters means we fail to spend the time with them that they deserve, especially compared to the time spent on Mr Corleone (although it would have been five hours long if they’d gone for that approach.) As such, though Gomorrah is fascinating, at times thrilling, and after the initial learning curve embroils your thoughts with its realist style, its closing remarks on each character group has less of an emotional punch. Still, it impresses enough to gain a CF1, possibly for the underpants / weapons testing scene alone. Check it out.