The scene looks harmless enough. A group of young boys splash about a kiddie pool high atop a suburban Naples apartment complex. Abruptly, the camera jumps several giant steps back to reveal a band of armed young men on the building's rooftop scouting for policemen in the streets below.
Innocence nuzzles close to dark intent and the threat of violence throughout "Gomorrah," Matteo Garrone's smashing dramatic account of the murderous Camorra crime network in Italy. Adapted from Roberto Saviano's international bestseller, this vibrantly disorienting cinematic import reinvents the vocabulary of the crime drama with a painterly eye and a feverish documentary style.
Garrone was a painter before becoming a filmmaker; the training reveals itself through hauntingly stark images in which characters seem to get swallowed up by an unforgiving environment. But for the memorable opening shot -- a slow fade-in on a man being irradiated by the blue glow of a tanning machine -- "Gomorrah" manages to be artful without being arty.
The violence is sudden and swift, if no less shocking for its cool brevity. The film's most chilling moment, arguably, is bloodless. Over a card game, a circle of Camorra bosses decide to rub out some kids who are stepping on their toes. "First we have to tell the families," one insists, invoking the organization's demented sense of etiquette. In a culture where armed thugs keep the peace beside their frolicking kid brothers, assassination is all in the family.
-- Jan Stuart (Feb. 27, 2009)
Contains graphic violence, nudity, sexuality, language, drug use and trafficking. In Italian with English subtitles.