There is something deeply disturbing and subversive about this movie. Based on a real book featuring real investigative reporting, it tells a series of interconnected slice-of-life vignettes about living in a notoriously crime-ridden part of Italy during the 2000s. I had to do some research after the fact because to its credit the film moves really fast, with no exposition and wastes no time explaining things to people who don’t come equipped with the knowledge.
It begins straightaway by plunging you into five inter-connected narratives and expects you to keep up, which is not too difficult although I did need to google a few things. The movie checks in on some small-time crooks, a young kid wanting to get deeper into gang-life, a garment industry guy with big dreams and no opportunities, some shysters running scams on local people and a beat up, defeated old man who is tasked with giving pay-offs to people in his housing bloc. These story-lines all focus on small-time, incidental players showing youhow they are impacted by the bigger criminal world of which they are a part, and how little that world cares about them.
The film is set during a period of gang warfare when one faction of the gang split off from another. What makes it interesting is that it doesn’t offer a glorified look at gangsterism. Nobody is noble in this film. They are just trying to scratch out a living in shitty circumstances, gobble up the crumbs dropped by others, and making moral compromises in the process. We don’t have anybody like Don Corleone, or a charismatic gangster that you can identify with like Jimmy the Gent or a pair of Tom Hardys. Nope. These are ugly people, doing ugly things to scratch out a living in the muck and the mire.
The film is thus about petty criminals trying to make it, and it is not shy about the pettiness or the ugliness. It dispenses with film school tricks designed to put some shine on the gangster life (like a long tracking shot through the Copabana). In fact, as you watch it you mainly feel disgusted by what the characters do but also by the low circumstances they find themselves in. It prominently features an inordinate number of physically ugly and fat people (the opening sequence is a bunch of fat ugly men being gunned down in tanning booths).
In that sense it succeeds at accurately depicting a life of crime as a disgusting thing, while also building a world that is narratively interesting for its complexity, and the many plates it has to keep spinning. And of course, no film can be that boring if there is the ever-present threat of someone being shot in the head. This is not necessarily a film you will want to watch twice, but everyone should at least watch it once.