This movie certainly addresses an important topic–the massive corruption and organized crime in Italy, and Naples specifically–and in many respects the movie is undoubtedly well done. Its long list of awards and nominations includes the Cannes Film Festival “Grand Prize of the Festival.” Critics have almost unanimously given it favorable reviews. Distinguished director Martin Scorcese has championed the film, calling it “a tough, forceful look at the Neapolitan underworld,” and stating “I admire the bluntness of this picture and the devotion of [director Matteo] Garrone and his actors in their pursuit of a terrible truth.”
But what keeps me from rating it too high is how terribly confusing it is.
There are evidently five stories running in parallel. That’s not counting the opening sequence where a bunch of people get shot; I’m not sure which if any of the stories that is connected to. The stories, from what I could tell, only infrequently intersect.
I’d say for about 50% of the movie, I had a good or better grasp of what was going on. For about 40%, I had only a frustratingly vague idea of who was doing what and how it fit in the story. And for about 10% I had no clue whatsoever, and it might just as well have been a scene from another movie.
The production values, the atmospherics, the realism, the acting, the general grittiness of it–yes, that’s all very good to excellent. And I like the fact that this is a rare film that doesn’t glorify the criminals. (Though even a non-celebratory film about bad, violent people is still a film about bad, violent people. In recent years I’ve become increasingly dubious of mass entertainment’s wildly disproportionate attention to organized crime and such, which I see as both a reflection and a cause of the public’s unhealthy fascination with such people.)
But while that was enough to keep me interested for the first half hour to an hour, ultimately I ran out of patience. If I’m going to sit and watch a movie for well over two hours, I want to understand most or all of it. Interesting trees only take me so far; I want to be able to see the forest better than I could with this movie.
I should also mention there are times the subtitles are completely unreadable (as if this film weren’t incomprehensible enough already). They are white with no outline, and so when that part of the screen is white or a light color, there’s no way to make them out. It’s a surprisingly amateurish mistake for such an otherwise highly professional movie.
How one responds to this film will depend in large part on how much one requires a traditional, understandable narrative. If that’s a big deal to you, you will likely find this film a frustrating experience. But if you care more about a film achieving a truly creepy, scary feel, and transporting you to a world very different (one hopes) from your own, and that’s enough for you, you may find Gomorrah a satisfying film that hauntingly stays with you long after it ends.