Delivering social-realism tension without once dipping its toes into mobster-glorification waters, Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah – adapted from Roberto Saviano’s bestselling tome – is a tough, cynical, blistering fictionalized study of the Camorra crime organization that controls much of Naples (as well as wields worldwide influence, including having contributed money to the reconstruction of the World Trade Centers). The vicious, insidious grip that Camorra holds over the region is imparted via five plots (some overlapping) that comprise Garrone’s narrative, which traces a variety of Italians as they attempt to navigate lives either inside or outside the mafia. Garrone doesn’t bother with in-depth characterizations, but that’s not to say that the film’s players are shallow stick figures. Rather, each is cast as something of a pawn in a game over which they hold next to no control, whether it be an aged bagman who delivers cash payments to ordinary citizens on behalf of his Camorra bosses, the veteran tailor who chooses (at great personal peril) to covertly train Chinese clothes makers in his spare time, or two young thugs who find a weapons cache and decide to hazardously live out their Scarface dreams. With a journalistic rigor and expansiveness that recalls that of HBO’s The Wire (albeit on a considerably smaller scale), Gomorrah details the across-the-board pervasiveness of the criminal outfit’s supremacy, which grows not from one central power nucleus but from a variety of associated sources intricately tied up in basic societal foundations. Camorra’s infiltration of Naples’ cultural and political infrastructure is linked by the sensationalism-free script to the organization’s practice of illegally dumping toxic waste into landfills – a corruption of the land that’s in tune with Camorra’s corruption of communal order and young, malleable kids. Naples is depicted as a decaying cesspool populated by the damned, and walkway-lined housing projects, resembling crumbling pyramids, are the epicenter of much of the action involving men hurtling headlong to deaths that are presented with chilly, just-another-day-in-hell banality. Garrone’s rugged handheld cinematography is rooted in the Italian neo-realist tradition, while his multistrand story somewhat recalls that of Robert Altman’s larger overviews, a stylistic synthesis that, in the assured director’s hands, gives hard-hitting weight, vigor and scope to his grim portrait of a modern world falling fast into ruin.
(2008 New York Film Festival)