It’s about time we had a mafia movie that was nothing more (and nothing less) than a film about defeat. And naturally it had to come from someone very much on the inside. Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah, based on the book of the same name, written undercover by Italian reporter Roberto Saviano, is hopeless in all the right aesthetic and ethical ways, and in its despairing, nearly anthropological look at crime from the top down in contemporary Campania (capital, Naples) it refuses to either sermonize or romanticize. The latter has been a loaded term in regards to the gangster genre for decades, and it’s often deployed as easy chastisement for those violent films that dare entice viewers with things like narrative, character, and resolution—certainly few could exit Scorsese’s eye-popping, throat-slitting Casino with aspirations to the mob life, regardless of its luxurious swish-pans and incandescent lighting. But “Gomorrah” is a whole other beast, a furiously detached view of the entrenched, corrupt system (the “camorra,” in translation) that allows and encourages the widespread death and murder of thousands every year in Italy. If your only previous experience with a melancholy mafia movie was Donnie Brasco, then Garrone is about to seriously sideline you.
Like Richard Linklater’s superlative, underrated Fast Food Nation, Garrone’s adaptation uses general reportage from its source material as inspiration for specifically dramatized subplots that weave together into a chilling tapestry of unofficially sanctioned social despair. In other words, this is no underbelly: this is everything. (Of course Gomorrah’s more sensational backstory has already gotten the film more attention: Saviano now lives in hiding; Fast Food’s Schlosser only temporarily made Ronald McDonald tremble.)
A few have decried the film’s rigorously dispassionate ethos, claiming that Garrone’s reserve creates too much of a distance between viewer and onscreen personage and that the film elides information in favor of atmosphere. I’d argue that it’s this narrowness of vision, when combined with the film’s impossibly wide social scope, which makes it such a harrowing experience. Click here to read the rest of Michael Koresky's review of Gomorrah.
And earlier, from New York Film Festival 2008: Michael Joshua Rowin on Gomorrah.