Biblical plague would be apt punishment for the evils perpetuated in Gomorrah. But the residents around Naples, where Matteo Garrone's gripping, clear-eyed drama is set, are out of luck: Hell will freeze over before justice is served on the Italian organized-crime network known as the Camorra, with its grip on international businesses ranging from fashion manufacture to toxic-waste dumping to drug dealing. Gomorrah the title's phonic similarity to Camorra is intentional is based on Roberto Saviano's fearlessly reported 2006 book of the same name, a project that landed the author, now 29, under armed protection. (The Camorra is reputed to have murdered some 4,000 people over the last 30 years.) While the movie's five stories of life and lawlessness are ostensibly invented, they're also rooted in fact.
Don't look for resolution, romanticism, or comic relief in this underworld tour, shot with a fast, you-are-there look and no pity; you won't find picaresque goodfellas or Sopranos-style ziti eaters here. Instead, there's the power of damning truth. No wonder the movie has won awards right and left, including the Grand Prix at last year's Cannes Film Festival. (Its absence among this year's Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Language film is itself a crime.)
For added authenticity, many of the roles are played by nonactors, local residents who mix with professionals. There's a 13-year-old kid (Salvatore Abruzzese) already doing small jobs for the big guys in the Inferno-like housing project he calls home; a mild-mannered Mob cog (Gianfelice Imparato) who makes payments to the families of guys in the slammer; a tailor (Salvatore Cantalupo) who dares to branch out from the Mob-controlled work he does for the couture industry; a couple of coked-up wannabes (Marco Macor and Ciro Petrone) who quote Scarface and think they've got swagger; and a smooth toxic-waste kingpin (Toni Servillo) who takes on an ambivalent apprentice (Carmine Paternoster). Naples-born Servillo is a national star, famed as a theater, opera, and film director as well as an actor. And he's got the face of a mensch (or a Madoff) which makes his embodiment of criminal banality all the more identifiable, as well as horrifying. A