DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Gomorrah, Blu-ray (2008/2009)

A shocking and gritty expose of the third Italian crime organization, the Camorra, which is the oldest and bigger than the other two Mafia networks.

Published on November 26, 2009

Gomorrah, Blu-ray (2008/2009)

Gomorrah, Blu-ray (2008/2009)

Director: Matteo Garrone
Starring: Toni Servillo, Gianfelice Imparato, Maria Nazionale
Studio: RAI Cinema/The Criterion Collection 493 [Release date: 11/24/09]
Video: 2.35:1 anamorphic/enhanced for 16:9 color 1080p HD
Audio: Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Subtitles: English

Extras: “Five Stories” Making-Of documentary (60:00), Video interviews with Garrone and Toni Servillo, Interview with writer Roberto Saviano, Video piece with three of the actors, Deleted scenes, Theatrical trailer, 18-page illustrated booklet with essay by critic Chuck Stephens
Length: 137 minutes
Rating: *****

Referred to by critic Chuck Stephens as “a kind of cinematically deglamorized anti-Godfather,” Gomorrah is a shocking and gritty expose of the third Italian crime organization, the Camorra, which is the oldest and bigger than the other two Mafia networks: the Cosa Nostra and the ‘Ndrangheta. “The System,” as it is frequently called, drives not only Italy’s but much of the world’s organized crime, and is involved in drugs, weapons, high-fashion textiles, construction, shipping and waste management. The latter area is detailed in the film as the Camorra’s toxic waste management specialist and his questioning new assistant go about filling in the countryside with chemically contaminated industrial sludge. The movie has also been called a Neopolitan version of Slumdog Millionaire, but without the sense of any hope.

The film translates to the screen writer Saviano’s popular “nonfiction novel” of the same name, which revealed such damning facts about the Camorra that the author has been living under police protection ever since. The sly hint of the Biblical Gomorrah reminds readers and viewers of the twin city of Sodom that was so hellish that only its complete destruction was appropriate. An ugly Naples public housing warren, since torn down, is the site of much of the film, but there are also many Antonioni-ish vistas in the striking cinematography, which the director admits was partially influenced by the violent paintings of Francis Bacon.  The chaotic lives of the inhabitants are portrayed with a probing neo-realism not that far from Rosselini’s Open City and other post-WWII classics. Several of them are young prepubescent and teenage camorristas-in-waiting, attracted to the gun-centered “respect” the gang members receive. There are no flashy clothes or cars, but the criminals idolize the anti-heros of Hollywood gangster movies, referring to themselves as Tony Montana, or aping scenes out of Scarface. The vulnerability of all the lesser characters is powerfully depicted, such as the sad-faced bagman Don Ciro, who has to constantly fend off the demands of housing project “friends” for a larger stipend from the gang to pay their bills. The brutal efficiency of the Camorra is the engine behind the five separate story lines that come together in this masterful and powerful film.

The Blu-ray transfer is excellent, and the super-wide screen images take the viewer into the awful world of the Camorra – whether it be the claustrophobic housing project that is falling apart or the wide-open and bare outdoor vistas.  There are also a number of very dark scenes taking places where drugs are dealt, guns stored, or simply electricity turned off in an apartment because the owner couldn’t afford it.  The few details to be seen were just right if your display is adjusted to a properly low black level (and your room lights are low or off). There was no option for selecting audio in the initial setup, and I was surprised after viewing the film to find it was DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. I heard no signals from the surrounds. The hour-long documentary is an informative watch, and as usual the deleted scenes seem properly deleted. The Timeline was an interesting feature I recall having seen in one other Blu-ray; it aided in understanding better the delving together of the five story lines.

 - John Sunier




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