Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Designer-suited dons didn’t glide through swanky nightclubs surrounded by sycophants in Gomorrah, Matteo Garrone’s 2008 Italian-mob epic about the Camorra — Italy’s oldest and largest criminal group.
Mostly, these Mafiosi were paunchy guys in wife-beaters patrolling slums to collect dues. And its lone strip-club scene offered no titillating escape, but an evocation of the title’s biblical reckoning. Granted, Lot’s wife didn’t turn around to look at writhing, naked women, but she still turned to salt.
Gomorrah (adapted from a true-crime book whose author is now under permanent police protection) is full of characters glancing back at their own peril when walking into, or away from, a mafia life faded into a city’s background.
A turf war envelops a money-delivering middleman. A teen undergoes mob initiation. A newbie to waste management sees its underbelly. An enterprising tailor crosses a line of competing interest. Two Tony Montana-aping teenagers foolishly steal a weapons cache.
These are mundane people with drab tasks, whose role is to toil with no reward beyond permission to breathe and subsist. By stripping the mafia of its usually seductive cinematic subtext, Garrone richly examines its sociological drudgery and violent consequences a la The Wire.
Simple criminal fantasies here provide lures into its ruthlessly complex realities and rigmaroles — slamming many characters’ faces into the rug before it’s pulled from beneath them. Methodically and patiently, Garrone’s Gomorrah allowed its eruptions of violence to shock and its notion that anybody could be a don die in a blaze of energy, rage and ambition.