Suburra (Cert 18)
1 Disc (Distributor: Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment) Running Time: 135 minutes approx.
The Italians (as should every nation really) ought to thank their criminal underworld, along with their corrupt politicians, for existing, purely for the endless inspiration it gives their writers and filmmakers, as this film from Stefano Sollima, director of the TV series of Gomorrah, so vividly demonstrates.
Set over the course of one week in November 2011, MP Filippo Malgradi (Pierfrancesco Favino) is working to fast track a bill that will allow him to turn a real estate project in Ostia into Rome’s answer to Las Vegas. Malgradi has close ties to a powerful former criminal known as Samurai (Claudio Amendola) who has invested in the project, for which he has secured financial backing from the Vatican Bank.
But things are jeopardised when an underage prostitute dies from a drug overdose in a hotel room with Malgradi and another, prostitute Sabrina (Giulia Elettra Gorietti), whom Malgradi leaves to dispose of the body. Sabrina calls a friend, Dagger (Giacomo Ferrara) and they dump the body in a manmade lake nearby. Dagger’s attempts to blackmail Malgradi backfire spectacularly and suddenly a violent gang war erupts.
The source material is a novel by Carlo Bonini and Giancarlo De Cataldo which explains the labyrinthine nature of the plot as the fallout from Malgradi’s actions spirals out of control. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise how things escalate quickly with this being a Mafia related crime thriller that follows a much explored precedent within the genre.
You can often tell when a director who was worked mostly in TV switches to a big screen project that he can’t leave certain habits behind, and Stefano Sollima, who also helmed the incredible small screen version of Romanzo criminale, is no exception, at least at the beginning of this film but this little cavil is soon forgotten.
The first forty minutes are slightly muddled with pacing issues as though Sollima forgot he didn’t have eight weeks worth of one hour TV instalments to tell this story (although 135 minutes is still quite some going), thus the introduction of the characters and central set up could have been smoother. Many key players only appear as a result of an incident while the importance of others is only felt later on.
Malgradi eventually becomes a pawn in his own game following Dagger’s independent blackmail scheme, asking a fellow MP to help get Dagger off his case. A violent thug nicknamed Number 8 (Alessandro Borghi) is asked to scare Dagger off but the former’s cockiness ends up getting him killed. Dagger however is the younger brother of Gypsy family patriarch Manfredi Anacleti (Adamo Dionisi) and naturally he wants revenge.
In the meantime, Manfredi is bullying high class pimp Sebastiano (Elio Germano), who hosts parties and supplies girls for the likes of Malgradi, after Sebastiano’s father (Antonello Fassari) commits suicide with a mountain of debts owed to the Anacelti family. After taking Sabrina in following the dead girl incident, Sebastiano tries to use her and Malgradi as leverage to reclaim his life from Manfredi.
As complicated as it all sounds the multiple threads are easy to follow and eventually do converge in one way or another. Occasionally the connections are incidental, often they are direct, but one has to marvel and the skill of the superb screenplay, written by the original authors along with screenwriters Stefano Rulli and Sandro Petraglia, which deftly juggles the multiple balls without dropping a single one.
Possibly the only angle not fully explored is the Vatican’s connection which is prominent in the opening ten minutes and infrequently mentioned thereafter. It revolves around the then incumbent papal wishing to abdicate his position, putting pressure on Samurai to get the Ostia bill push through with all due haste. Surely as the Pope he can just pray for it to happen?
Outside of this, Suburra is a full throttle crime thriller, rife with violence, betrayal, duplicity and manipulation at every corner. With no discernible protagonist to root for this is not a tale which demands emotional investment from the audience, at least not in the traditional sense. Some characters we are keen to see get theirs more than others, and this is a story where falls from grace are gloriously vertiginous and very bloody.
Where the film really commands our attention beyond the taut and intricate storytelling and committed performances is in the presentation. Usually output of this genre are gritty affairs with muted colour palettes and a pervasive grainy veneer – Sollima has gone the other way and adopted the vibrant and crystal clear high quality production values of Paolo Sorrentino instead.
Each sparkling clear shot is composed with hawk like precision and framed for maximum sensory impact while the camera doesn’t miss a beat of the action. Juxtaposing light and shade with the garish and vivid, the unquestionable highlight is the final scene which is one of the most beautifully shot ever seen, making it one of the most poetic and evocative final images to burn into our memories.
Despite its glossy appearance this is pure unadulterated mob war/political corruption mayhem at its finest, delivering everything one could possibly ask for of the genre – strongly written characters, a dense and gripping story, brutal, violent action and plenty of surprises to keep you on your toes.
Once the bumpy opening is in the past, be prepared for two hours of the most potent crime thriller action that is consistent in its intensity as it is in its sinuous storytelling. And for Sollima, it shows his can still spin a compelling within the confines of a single theatrical sitting quite comfortable without losing anything from the transition from the small screen.
Slick, stylish and subversive, if Suburra proves to be the impetus for a new wave of Italian crime thrillers and modern Mafia sags in world cinema then this is one hell of a way to start the movement.
Italian 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Italian 2.0 LPCM
Behind The Scenes
Rating – ****
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