Living a life of crime takes on a further horrific meaning in director Matteo Garrone’s realization of Roberto Saviano’s daring novel of the same name. For the subject is the comings and killings of Naples’ Camorra gang whose simple business plan (“We score, we kill and we need money.”) has ensnared countless families in the never-ending cycle of seizing power by force then keeping it through payoffs, threats and swift, final revenge.
Maurizio Braucci manages to weave many story lines into a fast-moving whole that has corruption and greed as its unwavering bedrock.
Cinematographer Marco Onorato has wisely used a wide variety of techniques (including relieving long-shots, enlivening hand held forays into the action and overhead views that add yet another take on the action). Veteran editor Marco Spoletini has managed to make sense of it all, resulting in a production that seldom loses its pace or murderous punch. Thankfully, the deadly violence shows just enough to make the point without slipping into the awful realm of gratuitous gore.
Strangely absent is a single reference to the Church. Seems the warring Neapolitans have long ago abandoned the sanctity of religion.
With so many threads spinning their tangled web onto the screen, a dominant actor, necessarily, fails to emerge. With bodies dropping on both “sides” (complete with a George W. Bush echo of “Are you with us or against us?”—this time demanded of a pubescent “soldier” (Salvatore Abruzzese) who desperately wants to move up from delivering groceries to “doses” of drugs) it falls to the ensemble to carry the day.
Entirely convincing are the fearless buds (Salvatore Ruocco’s Brando-esque delivery works remarkably well; Vincenzo Fabricino plays the addicted shooter—guns, not drugs—with frenetic zeal) who have visions of putting the local boss in his place. In the end, their naïveté catches up and lifts victory from their wildest imaginations.
The world of knock-off high fashion pits trusted tailor and dutiful father Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo gives a wonderfully understated performance) against his long-time, cash-strapped employer, seeking some quiet revenge for his decades of underpaid service by moonlighting as a teacher to the garment rival Chinese.
Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato—a marvel of stoicism) is the mob’s payment mule, patiently counting out and delivering euros to guarantee loyalty. But as the war heats up, his conscience finally finds its voice and he begs to be relieved of his duties. “You’re more dead than alive,” spits back the ruthless controller in a moment of prophecy that will soon be turned on its head.
The green storyline is most deadly of all. A waste management company promises “clean” disposal at an unbelievably low price per kilo. Ten out of ten contracts are sewn up by the devilishly smooth Franco (Toni Servillo) and his new, family-connection assistant Roberto (Carmine Paternoster, needing a wider range of emotion to back up his conversion to righteousness). To no one’s surprise, the toxic time bombs are never treated but merely buried in abandoned quarries whose owners are happy to turn a blind eye for a few euros more. Couldn’t happen here.
At journey’s end, the seat of power has been shaken yet manages to pile up just enough bodies to live to kill another day. The shot of the film sees a near end-of-term mom drawn out of her squalid apartment, staring down at her neighbour, Maria (Maria Nazionale plays the steadfast, doomed matriarch brilliantly) who has just paid the price for trusting a young “innocent” boy and her own son’s recent defection to the “other side.” The future looks bleaker than ever. JWR