Not since “The Sopranos” has there been such a realistic portrayal of life in the mob. In the recently released sub-titled independent film, “Gomorrah,” the audience is treated to a harrowing and powerful story about the many people affected by gang life in a small Italian town. The film first drew attention by winning the 2008 Grand Festival Prize at Cannes. It was later nominated for best foreign film at the Independent Spirit Awards and the Golden Globes. Although lauded by film critics, the movie truly benefits from the distressing and scary familiarity with brutality depicted by the characters portrayed.
“Gomorrah” follows the lives of several people who are drawn into the local mob, Camorra. These individuals include two gawky teenagers who are obsessed with guns and often quote lines from the movie “Scarface.” Throughout the movie they come to learn that glamour doesn’t always accompany violence. Action also centers around a young boy named Toto who discovers that the mob completely rules his neighborhood; he decides to get in on the action after realizing that real life doesn’t exist outside Camorra’s realm. There are also characters of an old man who deals with monetary transactions and thinks he is above the gang lifestyle, and a tailor who risks angering the mob by working with the Chinese immigrants living in the city. The characters are followed with close camera shots and little outside lighting, giving the feel that this is a documentary. This style allows the audience to feel like they are getting a secretive glimpse into the workings of the mob.
The film plays with sound in an inventive way. There is little music accompanying the scenes, unless it is music being played by the characters on stereos or car radios. Several scenes feature no sound at all, except for sounds like a beating heartbeat. Situations are played out on screen with little fanfare—characters are seen sitting around a table discussing the fate of some of their workers who have wronged Camorra in a seemingly calm way. There are enough scenes that display little to no action, so that when a violent shooting or beating does occur the audience is completely surprised. The film effectively shows that there is no escaping the brutality experienced by the people in the town—no scary music or buildup of instrumentals occurs. The audience is left to worry and anticipate when the next surprising act of bloodshed will happen.
The acting in “Gomorrah” is astonishingly real. Even the younger actors, like Salvatore Abruzzese, who plays Toto, accurately portray sadness and their resignation to a dangerous life. The film could easily have gone into cartoonish overacting. Scenes do require an over-the-top intensity, but the accomplished actors never retreat to hammy actions—they always maintain the emotions in a truthful way.
“Gomorrah,” reminiscent of Scorcese’s gangster dramas, is a touching film that will leave audiences thinking about it for a long time to come. The most powerful moment of the movie occurs at the very end when facts are given about the real-life Camorra gang. There were statistics about killings and the many projects the mob funds. Although the entire film is scary, the fact that these events have an element of truth gives it even more of an impact.