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Blu-ray Reviews


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#1 of 1 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

Matt Hough

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Posted November 20 2009 - 09:21 AM

The Camorra crime families in Naples have a vice-like hold on criminal operations that touch young and old alike in the city. Five specific episodes in their criminal empire’s wide reaching control involve a cross section of the city’s population. Thirteen-year old Totò (Salvatore Abruzzese) can’t grow up fast enough to join in one of the real criminal escapades, but he’s getting his start early as a youthful, innocent-looking bag man and spy for the mob. Marco (Marco Macor) and Sweat Pea (Ciro Petrone) are older teens eager to make names for themselves who stumble onto a cache of guns and decide they want to start their own criminal empire, oblivious to the dangers inherent in taking property that belongs to the mob. Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato) runs money between rival factions of the gang, and up until now has enjoyed a kind of protected anonymity that’s coming to an end. Franco (Toni Servillo) is in the business of toxic waste disposal for the gang, and he hires Roberto (Carmine Paternoster) as an assistant to help fulfill the disposal contracts with enterprises in the north, dumping the poisonous goods in the districts around Campania and playing nice with the ignorant landowners while secretly despising them. The mob’s control of the seemingly innocent garment industry involves master tailor Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo), an expert at the fine detailing required for the Camorra's valuable fashion sidelines and someone who’s also on the side instructing a factory full of Chinese sweatshop workers in the fine art of tailoring, all without the mob’s permission.
Though those first time viewers unfamiliar with the book by Roberto Saviano on which the screenplay is based will likely have a difficult time sorting through all five storylines which are splintered and interwoven throughout (and not helped by the fact that two of the actors - Gianfelice Imparato and Salvatore Cantalupo bear passing resemblances to one another thus making their stories slightly more difficult to keep straight until midway through the film), repeated viewings will bring rich rewards with the stories clearly delineating themselves from one another and each one containing moments of real human interest and, naturally, kinetic violence. Director Matteo Garrone plays the audience like a violin first shocking us with quick bursts of gunfire at the beginning of the movie and then lulling us into repose for quite a long while until the violence rears its ugly head again in each of the five plots. Each of the stories culminates in visceral attacks on the senses, and one would be wise to stay alert and on edge (it’s hard not to with such volatile people and white-hot emotions at play) to minimize jolts to the spine from the always shocking eruptions of violence. And if the film’s complex storylines never quite make clear the affiliations of one family to another (and thus keep clear who is on whose side; this messiness in delineating sides well especially in a couple of the stories is the film’s biggest weakness), it’s enough to understand the families are divided and at war with one another. No one is safe.
The film’s 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a beautiful 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Grain levels not only give the image a filmlike appearance, but they also increase the gritty quality of the storytelling though in low light levels the level of grain increases. With excellent contrast levels, color is very strong without oversaturation, and sharpness while usually outstanding does not always remain consistent. The details in facial features are beautifully rendered, and those exquisite details continue in textures of clothing and fabric and in details of rocks and stone walls. Black levels are rich and inky and only occasionally crush out details in the shadows. The subtitles are in a pale white that are not always that easy to read. The film has been divided into 23 chapters.