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Toronto: 'Gomorrah' hits hard

September 11, 2008 | 10:39 am

I finally got the chance to catch up with “Gomorrah” on Wednesday night, which I have been reading about since it premiered at Cannes in May. It was worth the wait. An adaptation of Roberto Saviano’s  Italian best-seller directed by Matteo Garrone, the film is a savage, head-on look at the criminal underworld who rule the province of Naples. Told in five interlocking but not overlapping storylines -- perhaps most easily described as some kind of mash-up of “Goodfellas” and “The Wire" -- the film makes plain how the criminal life works from the ground up, from the kids and soldiers who aspire to more, the middlemen with no chance to ever get out and the civilians trying to just stay out of the way.

Shot with a powerfully straightforward style, the film has a life-like vitality that makes the frequent bursts of violence disturbing and unshakable. And there are no Tony Sopranos, no sprawling mansions, no flashy cars. There is just work and blood. Orders filter down, but it can at times be unclear who is calling the shots and why. This gives the film a disorienting quality that makes it all the more gripping.

Chatter amongst those who chatter about such things seems to pin “Gomorrah” as a possible selection for the Italian submission for the Foreign Language Oscar. The main competition will come from another Cannes film, “Il Divo,” which also screened at Toronto but which I wasn’t able to catch. “Gomorrah” would make an interesting addition to the awards race, as it certainly isn’t a typical Oscar film, and its brutal violence may put off more middle-brow Academy members.

While the soundtrack to the film is filled with fizzy Italian pop music that works in grotesque counterpoint to the action onscreen, the final credits roll to "Herculaneum," a new song composed for the film by Robert Del Naja and Neil Davidge of Massive Attack. Its darkly bumping, sinister and freaky sounds are just the right touch for the end of this massively riveting film.

-- Mark Olsen