John Gotti makes for an interesting screen character. But that is where the genius of Gotti stops. Terrible technical details and bad storytelling are what define this movie. Christian Tesfaye awards 4 out of 10 stars.
John Gotti, played by John Travolta, breaks the fourth wall at the end of this eponymous movie.
“You can live to be 5,000 years, and you will never meet a person like me,” he claims.
There is a bit of an exaggeration there, but he does have a point. Gotti was truly a unique person – one that dared to live life to the fullest.
As early as his teen years, he was associated with the Gambino Family, one of the five most powerful crime syndicates in New York. Throughout the years, he rose through the ranks, becoming one of the family’s most reliable enforcers.
At age 37, he became a captain under Paul Castellano, head of the Gambino family at the time. Surreally, the crime boss was also the uncle of Richard S. Castellano, the actor that played one of the most popular characters in The Godfather, Peter Clemenza.
But Gotti was never as loyal as Clemenza. As an FBI investigation into the sale of narcotics focuses on Gotti and his brother, the duo begins to suspect that Castellano would have them assassinated to tie off loose ends. Gotti thus has him killed and becomes the head of the Gambino family.
Travolta plays Gotti with sincerity. He paints a version of a man whose philosophy in life is almost appreciable. He believes in honour and in fighting for one’s lot in life. If this means having to traffic drugs or assassinating rivals – according to Gotti – so be it.
The movie narrates Gotti’s rise to power by inter-cutting with the scene of his final meeting with his only son, John A. Gotti (Spencer Lofranco), that entered the life of crime. Their conversation is unique. It is not a father trying to persuade his son to take a plea agreement in return for a few years in jail. It is one where a father tries to convince his son to fight to the end, even if it means ending up in prison for two decades and getting estranged from his family.
Gotti was a man who was born too late, or too soon, for his time. He would be right in place in Ancient Greece when men were endlessly indulgent but had principles and rules that they would fight to the death for. How right-minded those principles are is beyond the point – the principle is to hold on to principle.
The movie was worthy of Martin Scorsese. The major difference between The Godfather movies and Scorsese’s Goodfellas is that while the former is about the grey areas of crime in the underworld, the latter is all about style and characters.
Gotti was a nostalgic man who was seeing the final days of organised crime that can afford to be noticed, but not touched, disappear. He dressed, talked and walked the part of an Italian gangster. Under the direction of Scorsese, he could have been a memorable screen character. He could have been our Michael Corleone or Tony Soprano.
Alas, it was Kevin Connoly, best known for his supporting performance in the TV show Entourage, that was behind the camera.
Most Hollywood movies, however derivative the plot or one-dimensional the characters may be, usually have intelligible scene constructions. It is not the case in this movie, which is severely lacking in its technical details.
The editing, composition, sound and framing are below grade. This is almost forgivable. There are many amateurish movies out there that are made by filmmakers that neither have the money nor the equipment but the love and respect for the medium. It is understandable even when this happens to non-independent movies, which might lose the studio’s backing, leaving the filmmakers out in the cold to deliver whatever is salvageable.
But such movies need to have good dialogue, complex characters, unique narration and original stories to even be watchable. Gotti has neither of these. The story and the characters may be based on real people but here they are compressed into caricatures. Like the 2015 Black Mass, this film wastes too much of its time trying to imitate gangster movies, despite being graced with an interesting plot line that could lend itself to a great movie.
There are too few good movies about gangsters. But when they come, they strike. Despite their low proportion, gangster movies are often some of the most highly rated.
There are few greatest movies lists that do not feature at least one of the first two Godfather movies, Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction or Scarface (1983). Unfortunately, when gangster movies are bad, they are unapproachable, like Gotti here.
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