MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: November 24, 2009
Review Date: November 20, 2009
There are continual jolts of electricity spread throughout Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah. It’s akin to the shock-to-the-system kick one got when he was first exposed to Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets or Goodfellas. The five interwoven narrative strands that make up the content of this film are streetwise, gritty, and positively riveting. It’s not pretty, but it feels as real as any documentary or nightly news report. These stories are nightmares that are, unfortunately, all too true.
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.
All of the actors play their parts with quicksilver verve and truth, but I was particularly taken with Carmine Paternoster’s gentle Roberto whose entry into the dirty world of toxic waste at first attracts him but later appalls him and with Salvatore Cantalupo’s talented Pasquale, proud of his skills but visibly unnerved by what crossing the mob even doing something on his own time can do to him and his family. Simpletons Marco Macor and Ciro Petrone are rather touching in their futile dreams of glory (Pacino’s Tony Montana in Scarface is what they aspire to), and one aches for all of the generation of lost children that Salvatore Abruzzese represents so beautifully. A simple scene where he breaks up with a childhood friend because they’re now in opposing families is heartbreaking.
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.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack has some very expansive spread across the front channels especially with the music, and the rear channels have occasional ambient sounds placed there though probably not to the extent they could have been used. There is some surround activity present (rainfall, some crowd noises), but much more could have been done with this, especially given the amount of gunplay and voices shouting and screaming which could have been more imaginatively placed around the soundfield. There is an occasional example of directionalized voices placed in the surrounds, but again, this is an area which could have been improved upon to add greater realism to this dark, menacing masterwork.
“Gomorrah: Five Short Stories” is a 62 ½-minute 2008 documentary directed by Melania Cacucei detailing behind-the-scenes glimpses of the filming of all five stories used in the film. The feature is presented in 1080i.
A 2009 interview with director Matteo Garrone finds the director talking about the difficulties of shooting on location in Naples dealing with some of the gangs portrayed in the film and why he chose the five particular stories from the book rather than the many other choices available. The featurette runs 22 ½ minutes in 1080i.
Co-star Toni Servillo speaks for 14 minutes on his two weeks of work on the movie and his having known the director since Matteo Garrone was a young child. This 2009 interview is presented in 1080p.
“Actors” is a compilation interview with three of the leading actors in the film: Gianfelice Imparato, Salvatore Cantalupo, and Toni Servillo, all of whom praise the director for not adhering so severely to the script and his willingness to trust actors with their roles. The feature runs 10 ½ minutes in 1080i.
Roberto Saviano, author of the original book (which put his life in great danger once it was published, speaks at great length on the Camorra crime families and their infusion into many levels of Italian society. His interview lasts 43 minutes in 1080i.
There are six deleted scenes which can be viewed separately or in one 13-minute grouping. They’re presented in 1080i.
The theatrical trailer for the film’s American engagements runs 2 ½ minutes and is presented in 1080p.
The enclosed seventeen page booklet contains complete cast and crew lists, some illustrative color stills from the movie, and film writer Chuck Stephens’ informative views on the movie and the true stories of crime in Naples which the film fictionalizes.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
4.5/5 (not an average)
Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah is a spellbinding crime drama that makes viewers work to mine its riches. The Criterion Blu-ray edition is a superlative one with exemplary picture quality and a treasure trove of fascinating and well presented bonus features. Highly recommended!