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Living (and Dying) in the Gangster's Paradise

Gomorrah (2008)

Mario Spada/IFC Films

Based on journalist Roberto Saviano’s 2006 bestseller about the Napolitano Mafia, “Gomorrah” is a sprawling Altmanesque epic about how organized crime has thoroughly contaminated every facet of life in Naples, Italy. Aside from having a vice grip on the local drug supply, the Camorra has also strong-armed its way into contracts for the manufacture of designer fashions and the illegal disposal of toxic waste. Two warring gangs have suddenly turned even child playmates into sworn enemies while everyone angles for the best position to make a killing or to simply avoid getting killed. Mr. Saviano’s account is so incendiary that he is now on the mob hit list and receives a permanent police escort.

Director Matteo Garrone’s cinematic treatment of “Gomorrah” has been a critical darling, sharing the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and is Italy’s official entry to the Academy Awards. In the absence of a protagonist and with a dearth of sympathetic characters to boot, Mr. Garrone manages to rivet the viewers’ attention from beginning to end through the sheer power of storytelling. Mr. Garrone lavishes attention and devotion on the film’s various vignettes so that they are all equally compelling, while also masterfully interweaving the various plot threads. Aside from its all-encompassing scale, the film is also unique in its starkly unsentimental depiction of the Mafia. While most offerings in the genre treat organized crime with equal parts dismay and romanticism, “Gomorrah” makes clear what it is really like to quake with mob-induced fear day in and day out.

“Gomorrah” is possibly the most authentic representation to date of the depth and influence of organized crime, but it will likely disappoint fans of “The Godfather” trilogy or “The Sopranos.” “Gomorrah” soberly shows the low-life thugs for what they really are, resisting the convention of casting them as anti-heroes in Scorsese or Tarantino land. They are thoroughly reprehensible and absolutely devoid of any redeeming qualities. The violence in the film is random and grotesque, without any sense of justification or vindication. There are no revelatory repository mommy stories from therapy sessions. If you worship gun-toting button men, this movie is not for you. In fact, it questions our very fascination with organized crime with a pointed reference to “Scarface” as the inspiration to all the wannabe gangsters. Those seeking escapist entertainment probably won’t be up for the challenge of an in-your-face morality tale.


Opens on Feb. 13, 2009 in New York and on Oct. 10 in Britain.

Directed by Matteo Garrone; written by Maurizio Braucci, Ugo Chiti, Gianni Di Gregorio, Mr. Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso and Roberto Saviano, based on the book by Mr. Saviano; director of photography, Marco Onorato; edited by Marco Spoletini; art director, Alessandra Cardini; produced by Domenico Procacci; released by IFC Films (United States) and Optimum Releasing (Britain). In Italian, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes. This film is not rated by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Marco Macor (Marco), Ciro Petrone (Ciro), Salvatore Abruzzese (Totò), Toni Servillo (Franco), Carmine Paternoster (Roberto), Gianfelice Imparato (Don Circo), Maria Nazionale (Maria) and Salvatore Cantalupo (Pasquale).


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