Goodfellas left out of Gomorrah’s brutal world

Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah offers an intimate look into a world where every day is a struggle for survival.

By Marcella Delaurentiis

Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah paints a detailed picture of cities torn apart by war—war not between two countries but between opposing offshoots of the same mafia network, the Camorra. Told in a disconcertingly matter-of-fact way, the film offers us an intimate look into a world where every day is a struggle for survival.

The film’s complex plot weaves together five different stories and many characters. But a common thread runs through all the stories: The sinister lure of the Camorra for the residents of Naples and Caserta, two Italian cities facing impossibly high unemployment rates.

Deeply entrenched in criminal activity, Don Ciro is a meek middleman who, after years as a money runner, tries to escape from the mob with little success. Best friends Marco and Ciro are wannabe gangsters who suddenly find themselves thrown into the world of the Camorra when they observe some gangsters hiding a stash of weapons on a farm. Roberto is a recent graduate who gets a good job working under Franco, a businessman under Camorra control who illegally disposes of toxic waste on farmlands, causing illnesses in the farmers and those who live nearby. Roberto is eventually disillusioned by such corruption, however, and becomes one of the few characters that demonstrates a moral conscience and walks away unharmed.

With such an intricate plotline and so many main characters to follow, viewers may find it difficult to form an attachment to any particular person. Although Roberto follows his moral compass and forswears the life of crime, the film fails to make him very empathetic. Audience members may relate on some level to Marco and Ciro’s hijinks and bravado, but the teens do not get enough screen time to really develop a strong connection with viewers. Moreover, the ruthless killings that occur without ceremony throughout the film make us hesitant to form any deeper sympathy for a character who may soon be murdered.

The film is based on the Roberto Saviano’s bestselling novel of the same name. Garrone had a mammoth task before him in adapting the sprawling, complex book to the big screen. To portray the pervasive presence of the mob in the cities, the film adopts a rather peripatetic style of filming. Viewers may be slow to warm up to this style, and rather than successfully demonstrating the far-reaching effects of the Camorra’s control over the city, it tends to create confusion.

Despite its shortcomings, Gomorrah provides a thought-provoking view of the mafia. Garrone portrays a world of vice in a remarkably neutral manner—not a surprising choice, considering Gomorrah was filmed in the very towns that are controlled by the Camorra, which dictates almost everything that happens within city limits.

Still, Garrone’s approach is refreshing, since it rejects the hero worship of other mafia flicks. Filmed from a fly-on-the-wall perspective rather than from an opinionated angle, Gomorrah manages to depict the widespread control of the Camorra with a careful, unflinching eye that doesn’t glamorize the mob or, conversely, portray its members as villains. The film offers a glimpse into the shadowy world of the Camorra and evokes the seductive power it has in Italy.