Release Date(s)2018 (September 25, 2018)
Studio(s)Vertical Entertainment/MoviePass (Lionsgate)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: N/A
There’s a lot that’s impressive in Gotti, a sort of biopic directed by Kevin Connolly, best known for his role in the HBO series Entourage. But the film undermines itself and instead becomes merely a good gangster flick.
Gotti switches back and forth among three time periods, the early years when John Gotti rises in the ranks of the Gambino crime family, the 1980s when he was undisputed kingpin of the New York crime families, and the years when an imprisoned elderly Gotti is dying of cancer.
The best choice was casting John Travolta in the title role. With his classy suits, silver hair, facial prosthetics, and tough talk, he channels the swaggering bravado of Tony Manero from Saturday Night Fever and the mannerisms and deportment of attorney Robert Shapiro from The People vs. O.J. Simpson. His face is a permanent scowl carved into granite as he plots dark strategies and lashes out at anyone who challenges him.
As a crime drama, Gotti follows a standard playbook, with violence a-plenty, assassinations, consultations with trusted associates, mob conflict, an influential mentor, a splashy wedding, guys who rat on their comrades, and a fly-on-the-wall look at his home life. If this all sounds familiar, you’ll be reminded of The Godfather. There’s nothing wrong with using that classic as a model, but it’s lazy to structure the screenplay so closely on the work of Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola.
While The Godfather had texture, an assortment of memorable characters, scenes of the home lives of the mobsters, and great performances, Gotti coasts on the presence of Travolta. The other main character is Gotti’s son John, Jr. (Spencer Rocco Lofranco), who drops out of military school to follow in his father’s footsteps, starting as a soldier, working up to “made man,” and eventually finding himself backed against the wall by the justice system. We see him visiting his father in prison to divulge that he’s been offered a plea deal if he confesses to his crimes and cooperates with the prosecution. The aged Gotti associates compliance with the authorities as tantamount to cowardice and refusing to cooperate as noble. But John, Jr. wants closure.
Like the proverbial four-alarm fire, Gotti is compelling viewing but lacks a point-of-view. “Crime doesn’t pay” is pretty simplistic considering the quantity of gangster flicks out there. Offering neither sympathy nor condemnation, director Connolly is content to treat the film as a docudrama, highlighting key aspects of the man’s life, amping up the violence, and letting Travolta bluster and bellow his way through his performance.
There are some noteworthy supporting performances. Kelly Preston plays Victoria, Gotti’s loyal mob wife, who must deal with a family tragedy and never fully recovers. Stacey Keach plays mentor and advisor Neil Dellacroce, who confers with Gotti behind closed doors to discuss the future of their crime kingdom. Pruitt Taylor Vince is excellent as Gotti’s longtime friend and partner in crime, Angelo Ruggiero.
A few scenes portray Gotti as the caring neighborhood enforcer who’s on a first-name basis with residents, keeps the streets safe from petty crime, and looks over his flock like a shepherd packing lead. Director Connolly incorporates vintage news footage showing residents praising Gotti and railing against law enforcement for arresting and trying him again and again. Lofranco is alternately pugilistic and deferential as the young John, Jr., but little is done, other than give him a pair of glasses, to age him in later years when he has his own troubles with the law. When we see actual news footage of the real John, Jr. – bigger, more muscular, and older – being led out of court, the illusion is shattered.
The zig-zagging from time frame to time frame becomes irritating after a while, since it’s not immediately clear in which period we’re set. The technique comes off more as a gimmick. Gotti’s rise and fall certainly contain enough drama to sustain a linear narrative.
Many of the film’s visuals are filmed in low light, suggesting the cinematography of Gordon Willis in The Godfather. Each time a new gangster appears, titles flash on screen with his name and affiliation, adding to the picture’s documentary feel. A scene in which a man is tortured in a dark basement is particularly unsettling, as his tormentor calmly asks who put him up to a failed hit. There is a palpable sense of dread as the patient interrogation takes place.
Sound is, for the most part, crisp, with voices clear and distinct. The dialogue appropriately includes lots of rude language. The soundtrack by Pitbull and Jorge Gomez has a driving energy and tough sound that enhances the visuals, and Connolly incorporates period popular music by artists such as Dean Martin, the Pet Shop Boys, Peter Tosh, Mel Torme, Elvis Presley, and Duran Duran. In one extended sequence, a chunk of Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from Shaft” gives a bouncy, devil-may-care feel to Gotti’s unconventional exploits.
Rated R, Gotti is presented in full 1080p HD video, 16 X 9 Widescreen in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are provided. The film runs 104 minutes. A digital copy is enclosed. There are no bonus features.
- Dennis Seuling