Cast: Toni Servillo, Gianfelice Imparato, Maria Nazionale, Salvatore Cantalupo, Gigio Morra, Salvatore Abruzzese, Marco Maco, Ciro Petrone, Carmine Paternoster
SUMMARY: In the south of Italy, in a region known as Campania, a war erupts between clans of the Di Lauro Camorra crime family. The main conflict is between members who are loyal to the Di Lauro side, and those who want to break off from it, known as separatists. This fight touches the lives of most of the region’s inhabitants: this film focuses on five specific stories: Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato), Toto (Salvatore Abruzzese), Roberto (Carmine Paternoster) and his boss Franco (Toni Servillo), Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo), and Marco (Marco Macor) and Sweet Pea (Ciro Petrone). Don Ciro is a money carrier for the Di Lauros: he takes a certain amount of money each week to the families of imprisoned gangsters. However, some of these families begin to have issues with the amount they are receiving, and the separatists grow angry as well. On one occasion his delivery is interrupted by separatists, who scare him so badly that he decides he has to get out of the business. He tries to convince the separatists to let him leave in peace, but they refuse, telling him that he has to help them out if he wants to leave. Ciro agrees, and the next time he is given the money for the families, the separatists come with him. They kill everybody but Ciro and take the money, and Ciro is able to leave. The only other people who are originally involved in organized crime are Roberto and Franco; Franco operates an illegal dumping scam (he buys/rents properties and dumps illegal material, like asbestos, on them), and Roberto is his new assistant. Early on Roberto is very enthusiastic about his job, but his opinion starts to change after one such dumping results in a spill that injures a truck driver. The other truck drivers refuse to work until an ambulance is called and the injured man is cared for, but Franco will not risk exposing his scam. He instead hires local children to drive the trucks and finish the job. Some time later, Franco and Roberto visit a family who already leases land to Franco, and now wants to lease more. The family has heard rumors that the material is poisonous, but is so desperate for money that they don’t care. On the way out Roberto is given a crate of peaches by one of the family members; when they are away from the house, Franco orders him to dump them out as they are poisonous. This is too much for Roberto, who decides that he is not cut out to work for Franco, and quits his job.
The other three stories concern people who were not originally affiliated with the family. Marco and Ciro, aka Sweet Pea, are teenagers who fantasize about being gangsters like Scarface. However, they are determined not to take orders from anybody else, so they start committing small crimes by themselves. This quickly earns the attention and wrath of the local boss, who tells them to stop. Marco and Sweet Pea respond by stealing the man’s hidden cache of guns and selling some of them. They blow the money on amusements; when they need more, they rob an arcade. While they are at a strip club they are suddenly seized by Di Lauro members who demand the guns back on pain of death. Again, the two ignore the orders, and the higher-ups decide that they must be killed. One of these higher-ups offers Marco and Sweet Pea a hit job: unbeknownst to them, it is a set up. When they try to kill the intended target, they are instead shot and killed, and their bodies disposed of. In contrast to the older teenagers, Toto (who is probably 13 or 14) realizes that he must work for the organization, rather than against it. He witnesses a police raid in which one family member leaves behind his gun and money; Toto retrieves and returns the items, which gives him an in with the Di Lauro side. He is initiated into the gang as one of the youngest members, but is valuable because he works as a grocery delivery boy, and has access to lots of people. One day, several of the younger gang members are hanging out in the street when separatists drive by and shoot one of them. The Di Lauro members decide to get revenge without having orders by killing the suspected turncoat, a woman Toto delivers to. Although he personally likes her, Toto is forced to draw the woman out of her apartment, where other members quickly kill her. Pasquale is the least involved with the war: his association is through his boss, who owns a garment factory. Pasquale is a talented tailor, but when his boss continually asks him to work long hours for little pay, he accepts an offer to help a rival factory. This rival factory is owned by the Chinese, who are in direct competition with the gang. To protect him and themselves, the Chinese men drive Pasquale to and from their factory in the trunk of the car. Things go well initially, but soon Pasquale’s boss finds out. He uses his mob connections to arrange a hit on the Chinese, which is carried out while Pasquale is in the trunk. Despite his boss’s arguments that he was purposely spared, because of his value and lengthy career, Pasquale quits and becomes a semi driver.
MY TAKE: This is definitely not as glamorous as The Godfather or Scarface. It actually has a lot more in common with typical American gangs, rather than the classic Mafia. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of organization within either side of the war, and we aren’t shown who’s calling the shots. I thought the beginning was rather confusing, as I didn’t know who was being shot or why: the fact that this original shooting started the whole war was also lost on me. I don’t think I would have figured out that all five stories were connected to the same war/crime family on my own, because it isn’t really made clear. There’s a lot of that: it’s hard to keep the characters straight for quite a while, because there’s quite a few, their names aren’t used a lot, and the action jumps back and forth between stories. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie, and I did know who everybody was by the end of the movie, though I still probably wouldn’t have gotten the common-family angle if I hadn’t read it online. I have to admit that this movie did manage to surprise me, which is rather hard to do. I’m a skeptical person, and I’ve seen a lot of movies, so I anticipate most events that are designed to scare you. However, I completely missed the buildup to the assault on the car carrying Pasquale and the Chinese men. I knew the boss was onto Pasquale and was probably going to act, but for some reason I was completely lulled in by their inane conversation about Tai Chi or something. When the motorcycle assassin pulled up and started shooting, I actually jumped. Obviously, this movie doesn’t have a happy ending, although it could have been a lot worse: only two of the main characters are killed, and two, maybe three of them (Pasquale, Ciro and Roberto) actually manage to walk away from things. Having seen other gangster movies, I found myself thinking that this probably wouldn’t last, but who knows. Maybe they actually did manage to sever ties and move on to a new life.
RATING: Semi-unclear, but not horrible.