Suburra is an Italian crime epic from director Stefano Sollima, best known for helming the TV adaptation of renowned 2008 Neapolitan mafia film, Gomorrah. Something that is immediately clear is that with Suburra, Sollima is working with a broader canvas. Where Gomorrah concerned the trials and tribulations of (relatively) small-fry criminals, Suburra follows the misdemeanours of a myriad of crime factions, business interests, corrupt politicians and even the Vatican. The overarching theme is one of price; how much it costs (in blood, money or otherwise) for someone to yield to another’s demands.
Many familiar tropes of mafia cinema crop up; strained loyalties, political vice at the highest levels of government, huge debts owed to the worst people imaginable and several others. Despite this, Suburra manages to feel fresh and not at all hackneyed. The direction throughout is elegantly handled yet not excessively stylised, and the film is gripping from the first frame to the last. The film also looks absolutely beautiful; not least in the glossy, neon-lit nightclub scenes which perhaps owe a visual debt to Nicolas Winding Refn’s recent work.
The principle storyline concerns the desire of collaborating mafia families to create a ‘new Las Vegas’ on Rome’s waterfront, the various palms which need greasing and the assorted people who need removing for this to become a reality. Along the way, a drug-fuelled night of debauchery leads to the accidental death of a young prostitute, dragging politician Filippo Malgradi (Pierfrancesco Favina) further into a mire of vice and corruption. This acts as the main catalyst for a series of events and intertwining subplots which collide into one another, with increasingly bloody consequences.
The timeline of the film is ordered chronologically over the course of a week, with sporadic announcements of how many days remain until ‘the apocalypse’. As things spiral further and further out of control (and the body count steadily rises), the sense of inevitable cataclysm is palpable. For a lengthy film (134 minutes), at no point does it drag. Given the scale and density of the plot (the intricacies of which would require a blackboard and diagrams to explain), this is an impressive feat.
Performances are very strong across the board, with special praise due to Pierfrancesco Favina as the sleazy, self-serving senator Malgradi and Alessandro Borghi as the sociopathic Mafioso ‘Number 8’.
The soundtrack is provided by French band M83, and their emotively charged electronic / symphonic music proves to be an extremely effective pairing with the rich, glossy aesthetic and mood of the film. To call it a score (as the promotional materials do) is rather misleading however, as much of the music in the film is taken from the band’s 2010 album Hurry Up We’re Dreaming, most notably the song ‘Outro’, which appears several times throughout.
Some of the dialogue, at least in a couple of the formative scenes, could be described as rather clunkily expository. Veteran gangsters sit around tables and explain to each other the backstory in a rather unnatural fashion. This seems a narratively clumsy approach, especially given the classiness of the film-making elsewhere. Also it sometimes feels as if Suburra was initially conceived as a longer film, due in large part to a subplot concerning the pope’s resignation which surfaces on occasion yet seemingly serves little purpose in the overall story. Perhaps Sollima intended the events depicted here to act as a metaphor of sorts, but it comes across as unfinished and one is left with the impression that quite a lot was left on the cutting room floor. Despite all of this, Suburra is an immaculately well-made entry into the Italian mafia genre canon. Comparisons to Scorcese’s crime epics (which it has received) are well-founded, given the scope of the story and the skill of Sollima’s direction. A thoroughly engrossing watch.
The extras section of the disc is perfunctory at best, consisting of only a very brief EPK featurette.
The film unarguably looks fantastic, and its presentation on this release is immaculate. The image is exceptionally sharp and colours are full and rich throughout, most notably in the nightclub scenes as mentioned previously. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1
The audio is well served; dialogue is cleanly recorded and always clear, the frequent music never becoming obstructive or overbearing. The film is available in both stereo and surround sound mixes. I’m unable to comment on the 5.1 mix as I watched the stereo version.
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