Italy/France | 2015 | Directed by Sefano Sollima
Logline: A powerful gangster intent on transforming the Rome waterfront into a new Las Vegas has involved a corrupt politician and rival mobs, but soon finds the common goal jeopardised and a war erupting.
The new Italian gangster movie is something to behold. Last year’s Black Souls was a sumptuous, slow-burn affair, with a deep, brooding atmosphere, and a tightening screw of tension. Now another crime drama, this time with a more deliberate thriller technique, has been unleashed and its even darker, more convoluted, and packs an even bigger wallop. Suburra, which translates as “slum” and refers to the red-light waterfront district part of Rome, is the amazing new feature from a director who previously worked in television.
Partially funded by Netflix (apparently a US tv series is set to follow) , and based on a successful novel, the story features an ensemble cast, and in classic gangster tradition, follows a series of confrontations, threats, machinations, and inevitable clashes and chaos. With terrific performances all-round, it makes for a sensational piece of neo-noir cinema.
Malgradi (Pierfrancesco Favino) is an ambitious politican, intent on furthering his power by pushing a bill through in order to get the dream of Samurai (Claudio Amendola)’s realised; a sprawling waterfront “Las Vegas”. The Vatican Bank are also involved financially. In the opening scenes Malgradi is indulging in his penchant for high end call girls and crystal meth, a hotel room threesome that spells the beginning of the end.
Soon there are numerous dodgy characters involved, from Sabrina (Guila Gorietti), the glamorous hooker, Spadino (Giacomo Ferrara), a gypsy pimp, Sebastiano (Elio Germano), an upper class pimp, “Numero 8” (Alessandrio Borghi), a powerful, cocky thug, Viola (Greta Scarano), his smack-addict lover, and Mandfredi (Adamo Dionisi), the volatile patriarch of the Ancacleti clan. It’s not going to end well. In fact, the movie begins with an inter-title stating “seven days before the Apocalypse” and proceeds to count down the week, as events unfold and escalate.
Everything about Suburra is executed with style, conviction, and panache. The cast alone is a knock-out, but the cinematography, in all that sumptuous rain, is a character in itself. I’m not familiar with any of the actors, but they own their characters with aplomb. There are all the great elements we know and love about gangster movies, especially the hard-hitting violence and the intrigue and sabotage. Sollima injects a potent dose of sexuality into his tale, with his decadent hotel tryst. But there is also a sensual level imbued in the relationship between Numero 8 and Viola, a bond that will ultimately provide the movie with its sting in the tail.
The brooding score, composed by electronic outfit M83 (chiefly Frenchman Anthony Gonzales), is the resonate atmospheric spine of the movie, especially a powerful reoccurring theme that progresses with soaring vocals. Their songs feature in numerous other movies, but here they have been the freedom to compose for the entire movie, and it works a treat.
Suburra isn’t interested in reinventing the wheel, and the best gangster movies don’t try and fix what’s not broke. The directors of great noir thrillers and mob movies understand that these movies rely on the intelligent, effective use of its tropes and stylistics. If you fill the movie with a killer cast, design it authentically, execute the violence with no compromise, take no prisoners, and, above all, maintain that Shakespearean edge of “tragedy”, then you’re home and hosed. Sollima does this par excellence with Suburra, and, the copper-tasting icing on the cake is, he leaves you soaked in the rain, wanting more.
Another year’s favourite, done and dusted.