Review: Gomorrah Seasons 1 & 2
Television: Gomorrah (2014 -)
In May 2017 the long wait will be finally over as Sky Atlantic finally fills the void for those of us who have been long-starved of tales of betrayal, treachery and the violent struggle of a family to gain power over its kingdom. But if you think that this is a sword and dragon saga then you will have to think again as this is not the tale of Westeros and White Walkers but one of Naples and cocaine importers. Welcome to Gomorrah.
Although the TV series has previously run for just 2 seasons it already has quite a history. In 2006 Roberto Saviano’s book The Gomorrah: an expose of the Italian Camorra crime syndicate became an instant best seller, earning its author a death threat from its subject matter and now lives a life under armed guard.
In 2008, Matteo Garrone’s fictional movie adaptation of the book was released to critical acclaim. The film wove three stories together: the illegal dumping of toxic waste, counterfeiting of designer clothing and the drug dealing street gangs of a Naples housing project where the TV series is based. If films such as Goodfellas and Donnie Brasco are a grittier, face slap to the stylised Godfather’s ‘Men of Honour’ depiction of organised crime, then the Gomorrah shoots it in the head. There are no taboos that the Camorra will not operate in and it’s depicted as a live for the moment, kill or get killed existence and where death is often dealt from the back of a motorbike.
Likewise the TV series has fewer similarities with the Sopranos and more in common with the street dealers in The Wire albeit with a much heavier body count. It makes use of the housing projects in the Scampia district which rise like a postmodern nightmare version of a Mayan pyramid. The estates paint a bleak picture of a world owned by the gangs and impenetrable by police. In the first season we are introduced to the head of the Camorra Clan: Don Pietro Savaslano, his son Genny and Ciro a foot soldier with ambition. These characters become the nucleus of the story, aided by a supporting cast of snitches, dealers, enforcers and rival bosses. Don Pietro is old school, utterly ruthless and views all rivals as legitimate targets. Initially Genny appears more of a Fredo Corleone character than a Michael, concerned with using the family reputation to attract girls and hang with his street gang friends. Shaven headed Ciro tries to bridge the gap between father and son but begins to make his own moves when he is overlooked by both.
Director Stefano Salima uses the Tarantino effect of keeping the dialogue of the criminals to everyday mundane subjects while they shoot, bomb and attempt to burn down their rivals. Their world is as bleak as the estate’s inhabitants and even those who make money from the drug trade remain there filling fortified apartments with expensive furniture and trinkets in the worst taste imaginable.
As Ciro begins his scheming, taking advantage of a drug bust which results in the Don fleeing to exile and Genny sent to Honduras to oversee the production of raw cocaine. However, the son who eventually returns is now a darker, calculating criminal (even if he does resemble James Corden with a mullet). This rest of Season One which has fictionalised elements of the book and focuses on Ciro and Genny as they plot against each other, form alliances with other gangs and up the body count. With each episode the viewer is asked to switch allegiances between the two as the story crashes headlong into an inevitable violent ending.
Of course this Sky Italia series has English subtitles but this never detracts from the storytelling, the narrative here is strong enough keep the viewer transfixed and disbelieving that an hour has passed when the end credits appear. Subtitles also work comically against the hard-edged Italian house and hip-hop soundtrack which permeates the series, showing the lyrics to be mawkish enough to make Justin Bieber blush.
Season 2 is very much an Empire Strikes Back as Don Pietro plots his return from exile and Ciro struggles to keep the newly formed cartel together. This also allows the director to switch the focus onto some of the supporting members of the show including a Jesus fixated Salvatore Conte and Donna Annalisa who makes a much better job of running a street gang than her idiot son who is in prison. The action changes to an ultraviolent cat and mouse game as Ciro tries to hunt down the returned Don who is hiding, but busy picking off the coalition of street gangs who have taken charge. The viewer is left having no real idea who will remain standing when the last bullet has been fired and the final scene is something that few could predict.
Where Director Stefano Salima intends to take up the story next will be interesting as the Gomorrah’s original source material is used up and author Roberto Saviano has spent many years isolated under armed protection. However, the Camorra crime syndicate is still flourishing with its tentacles spreading and ensuring that this Game of Capones hasn’t finished.
Review by Steve Woolley.