99% of the time, crime doesn’t pay. For the 1% however – those intelligent, hardened and violent few – it pays big. Much to the expense of those whose lives they touch on their rise to power.
Gomorrah shows the darker side of Naples; a city famous for its architecture, archeology, culture and food. Away from the tourist spots, criminal empires run by powerful families overrun ghettos. Families and factions waging war with one another, leaving a trail of death and destruction in their wake, all in the name of drugs and money. One family in particular, the Savastanos, are those with more power than the most.
Don Pietro (Fortunato Cerlino), the family’s patriarch, has an eye on the future and the continued legacy of the Savastanos. He’s not going to be around forever, after all. Luckily he has a son, Genny (Salvatore Esposito), albeit one who’s not in the least bit ready for his place at the top when the series picks up, and a un-trustworthy right-hand man in Ciro (Marco D’Amore) to help guide Genny through the nitty-gritty of the criminal underworld. You know, the usual stuff – murder and the like.
The focus isn’t solely on the rich mob bosses in their overly plush, lavish ghetto homes. It’s as much about the blue-collar workers of the drug world, sometimes for episodes at a time. Whilst structurally these excursions begin to have a familiar feel – particularly in the second season – they’re full of impact, and riffs on expectations of the formula bring plenty of surprises. Certainly not the only surprises the show provides though. They’re basically its forte. It has more twists than a pretzel. Twists and turns galore. Just excellent, clever writing all round. You expect a character to be good and they’ll be bad, you expect them to be bad and they’ll be good…ish.
Because make no doubt about it, these are bad people that we follow. It means that at times they’re difficult to root for, but it never glosses over the dark things that Don Pietro, Genny and Ciro choose to do in the name of power. Good and bad is relative in this world. I’m not sure that I would necessarily say that I like any of the characters – because, well, liking mass murdering drug lords isn’t always easy – yet they’re all, without exception, fascinating to watch. Sure it might be uncomfortable viewing at times, but even in the most taut moments, I’d challenge you to look away.
The first season in particular is tight, compact (yet layered) storytelling at its finest. Genny’s journey to becoming the man that his father Pietro, and his mentor Ciro wanted him to be (only much stronger willed, and far more dangerous than they had bargained for) is a real highlight. He’s an unpredictable live wire expertly brought to life by Salvatore Esposito. For all of his flaws, his intelligence and presence is always felt. The skill-set which he inherits from his father (and which Pietro makes apparent in every domineering appearance he makes) reveals itself over the course of the two seasons, culminating in a confrontation with Ciro that’s as gripping as you could hope for.
A leap forward in time for the second season acts as a way of driving the story and characters into newer territories, as the street-level politics of the Naples crime scene come to the fore. It’s a more complex, if slightly less focussed arc, with one or two somewhat muddled plot threads. Nonetheless it’s pushed forward at an ever-escalating pace by the excellent cast. And without giving anything away, puppet master Don Pietro is worth the price of admission alone. That’s without even factoring in the stunning cinematography, which manages to make even the grimiest of Naples suburbs beautiful. Then there’s the simplistic, yet effective music. When the main theme kicks in, it’s a clear sign that something’s going to happen.
You can be sure that whatever it is, it’s going to be spectacular. Who comes out on top of this particular game of thrones is anyone’s guess.
Rating (out of 5):
Gomorrah Season Two is available on DVD & Blu-ray from Arrow Films now.