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GOMORRAH
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Toni Servillo, Gianfelice Imparato, Maria Nazionale, Salvatore Cantalupo, Gigio Morra, Salvatore Abruzzese, Marco Macor, Ciro Petrone, Carmine Paternoster
Director: Matteo Garrone
Audio: Italian DTS HD 5.1 (with English Subtitles)
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Criterion
Features: See Review
Length: 137 Minutes
Release Date: November 24, 2009

ďYou bring money, and I kill people. Weíre both part of this war.Ē

Film ***1/2

A foreign film presenting a raw and unflinching look at the Italian criminal underworld is all needed to be sold on Gomorrah. But what sealed the deal was the fact that Martin Scorsese was responsible for bringing this film to the U.S. If a movie about the mafia was enough to blow away a master like Scorsese, then itís clearly a movie that any fan of this genre canít afford to miss.

Sure enough, the film is a masterful piece of work, and is so powerful at times that you can barely stand it, just like the many great films of cinema. However, it must be noted to those expecting more of an energetic, stylish glamorization of drugs and violence, a la Scarface, that this is a much more challenging picture and demands your attention during every minute. In fact, this is one of the few films ever made about the criminal lifestyle in which not one bit of glamour is used in its depiction.

The film is based completely on a work of non-fiction by Roberto Saviano. His book contained such an intense detailing of the criminal organization operating in and around Naples, Italy, that it resulted in Saviano becoming a marked man. When you take that and the passionate filmmaking into account, itís all too clear that filmmaker Matteo Garrone set out to make the most ultra-realistic piece about the mafia lifestyle to ever be committed to film, to the point where he could care less if a hit was put on his life as well.

Garrone paints a structure with the film much similar to that of Traffic. And while Steven Soderberghís film is more superior, Gomorrah turns out to be much more dizzying and complex in its telling of five separate stories all tied together by a criminal organization known as the Camorra, which is the oldest of its type in Italyís history. Itís considered to be even older than the mafia, and much more powerful.

Of the five stories, the one that is unquestionably the most effective is the one involving Ciro (Ciro Petrone) and Marco (Marco Macor), two teenagers from the housing projects district who want nothing more than to aspire to the level of Tony Montana. And sure enough, once the opportunity is presented to them, they rob a rival gang and instantly become addicted to the lifestyle. It was quite bold of Garrone and Saviano (who contributed to the screenplay) to include the youthsí love for Scarface as way of illustrating the filmís point since, by the storyís end, we come to see that this lifestyle is anything but the glamorous one that Ciro and Marco had initially hoped for.

What sets a good bit of the movie in motion is Ciro and Marcoís crucial decision to hijack an arsenal of machine guns from the very people no one should steal anything from. Once they come into possession of the weapons, the two go nuts testing them out in open field area, which is one of the most jarring scenes in the film. With joyous looks on their faces, Ciro and Marco treat this as the moment theyíve waited their entire lives for.

The violence is handled in a manner never displayed in any other film, at least to my knowledge. Itís not excessively graphic, and yet when it occurs itís always out of nowhere, and as a result, the execution scenes leave a lasting impact in a way that an over the top, blood-spurting visual never could. Never before has a film of this type made me jump on more than one occasion due to the sudden outbursts of gunshots.

Another key element to the film is the astonishing visual aesthetic that Garrone and cinematographer Marco Onorato have brought to it. Mixing in effectively used color (like the opening tanning bed sequence) and dynamic tracking shots throughout the run down streets of Naples, Garrone has made a film that is both visually stylish and authentically shot. The decision to not include a music score also gives the film an ultra-realistic feel, as if youíre witnessing real events go down.  

The most proper comparison I can think of for this film is the brilliant television series The Wire, which depicted in incredibly rich detail the effects that the distribution of narcotics has on many various angles, most notably cops and city politicians. If Gomorrah has one minor setback, itís simply the notion that it tries to do in 137 minutes what The Wire did so powerfully during the course of five seasons. Should the film ever inspire a TV spin off in the vein of City of Men, then we would no doubt be witnessing televisionís next great achievement.

Nonetheless, Matteo Garrone has made a film that is thoroughly bold and brutally effective from beginning to end. Gomorrah is in many ways a terrific companion piece to City of God, as both films are visually engaging in a unique way and deal with the horrific realities of gangland violence. Itís a film that demands your undivided attention at every point and in the end is a most rewarding viewing experience.

Video ****

This movie has been available to rent for several months now on DVD, and as much as I wanted to see it then, Iím so happy that I waited to first experience via this fantastic looking Blu-ray from Criterion. The super gritty visual style benefits amazingly in the 1080p. The level of image detail here is astounding. Colors are also a knockout, as illustrated in the filmís opening scene. Itís definitely the closest Iíll ever get to visiting Italy, as the presentation beautifully enhances the authentic look!

Audio ***1/2

A most superb DTS HD mix brings a phenomenal punch to this hard hitting film. Though itís more dialogue driven than anything else, those unexpected bursts of violence will knock you to the floor. There are also several dance club music bits that are extremely well handled, in addition to that of dialogue delivery.

Features ***1/2

Criterion, as always, brings the absolute best in whatever extras they are able to supply to their releases, and this Blu-ray is no exception. Included is a remarkable hour long documentary titled ďFive StoriesĒ, as well as new video interviews with director Matteo Garrone and actor Toni Servillo, an interview with writer Roberto Saviano and a short video piece featuring Servillo and actors Gianfelice Imparato and Salvatore Cantalupo. Lastly, there are Deleted Scenes and a Theatrical Trailer.

Summary: 

Those who have an equal appreciation for authentic gangster films and a different style of storytelling will find a lot to appreciate about Gomorrah. The film is as brutal and realistic as it gets, and it will indeed stay with you long after the final frame!

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