Magazine article The Spectator

Fear and Menace

Magazine article The Spectator

Fear and Menace

Article excerpt


15, Nationwide

Gomorrah is a mafia film and while we are well used to mafia films and even like some of them -- for example, and if I recall rightly, The Godfather was quite good; do catch it if you can -- this is not that sort of mafia film. There are no big stars, no horses' heads, no violin cases, no corpses dispatched to sleep with the fishes and no contract killings, which, these days, might also be available as pay-as-you-go.

It is always worth shopping around and perhaps asking yourself questions like: do I want my killings during the day, or can I wait until the evenings and weekends?

Anyway, this is an Italian-Italian mafia film, rather than an American-Italian one, and is based on Roberto Saviano's bestselling non-fiction book of the same name which exposed the Camorra mob in Naples, the organised crime cartel -- although not that organised; I didn't see a single filing cabinet, for instance-- who, in the last 30 years, has murdered 4,000 people and who makes its money not just through drugs, arms trafficking and protection rackets, but also by doing business in construction, waste dumping, restaurants, haute couture . . .in short, the mob is everywhere, infecting everything and everybody on the desperate, run-down, mashed-up housing estate where this film is mostly set.

There is nothing grand or operatic about Gomorrah and, as a result, it is poundingly powerful. It is heartless yet gripping, offhand yet peculiarly intimate, and courageous in the way it presents itself as a series of seemingly disconnected scenes which, ultimately, you have to connect. I know, I know, who wants to go the cinema and do the work? Don't I work hard enough already? But, happily, Gomorrah not only demands attention, it also commands it. It is nearly two and a half hours long and yet I did not drift or do a supermarket shop in my head (damn; now I don't know what we are going to eat this week).

Here, director Matteo Garrone, along with his five co-writers (including Saviano), has not so much distilled the book, as teased out a few narrative threads; a 13-year-old boy eager to get on to the first rung of the Camorra ladder (don't do it, son! …

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