By its very title and subject, Gomorrah promises crushingly obvious intimations of bibilical barbarity. In execution, however, Matteo Garrone’s account of the multiple levels of organized crime in modern-day Naples works the opposite way, sidestepping grandiose gestures and statements in favor of a grimly matter-of-fact chronicle of how pervasive the Mafia influence has become. Paring down Roberto Saviano’s densely researched bestseller to a quintet of parallel character strands, Garrone composes a chilling mosaic that, with an analyst’s calm and a hitman’s eye for impersonal brutality, lays out the social, political and economic reverberations of the Camorra criminal families. The characters’ struggle across the age spectrum reflects the many stages of the organizations’ reign of terror, from 13-year-old Toto (Salvatore Abruzzese) eagerly starting out at the bottom of the Camorra ladder to Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo), a weary tailor who bridges high fashion and lowlifes. In between them, there’s Tony Montana-obsessed knuckleheads Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone) running around with machine guns, money-runner Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato) pondering the cost of fidelity as signs of gang war begin to brew, and toxic-waste entrepreneur Franco (Toni Servillo) corrupting his fresh-out-of-the-university assistant’s worldview.
Garrone’s gangster-as-capitalist view never softens its focus a la Traffic or turn its executions into exploitative set pieces a la City of God; lean and coolly distanced despite the plot’s escalating violence, the film at its most fierce feels like a continuation of Francesco Rosi’s caustic exposés like Lucky Luciano and Illustrious Corpses. Expertly controlled for most of its sprawling running time, the film’s points about life under ruthless criminal rule grow inexorably redundant, particularly as, in an attempt at connecting the dots in Garrone’s massive canvas, it gives in to the stock mobster shocks it had rigorously eschewed. Still, few mafia films so thoroughly depict an order in which crime is to its people not an underworld but, simply and bleakly, the world itself.
The grubby, grainy look of the film is dutifully preserved on this sharp transfer; color balance is solid if a bit too bright and skin tones are accurate, but some combing effects hug a few buildings. The audio is possibly superior: Dialogue is clear, and though the surround work isn't full of great range, the music and gunshots are still impressively robust-sounding.
The hour-long documentary "Gomorrah: Five Stories" is a rather banal compilation of behind-the-scenes footage and clips from the movie, though it's almost worth sitting through for the final snippet of an old man, a likely mafioso, expressing remorse over what has become of his little piece of Italy. More useful are interviews with Matteo Garrone and actor Toni Servillo: The former smartly talks about the film's setting, how he chose the five stories from the source novel, and the death threats he's received, while the latter fondly recalls his working and personal relationship with his director. (Servillo crops up again on another video interview with actors Gianfelice Imparato and Salvatore Cantalupo.) In another interview, Roberto Saviano, co-screenwriter and author of the book on which the movie is based, discusses everything from the number of crime families in Italy to the links between textile factories in Naples and dresses made for Madonna, Melanie Griffith, and Angelina Jolie. Rounding out the disc: a theatrical trailer, six deleted scenes, and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Chuck Stephens.
Drably redundant, the over-praised Gomorrah may not deserve the Criterion treatment, but fans will be pleased by the solid audio/video treatment it has received.