Four interwoven stories set in contemporary, Camorra-dominated Naples, and inspired by Roberto Saviano's international best-seller. Pasquale is a talented tailor who creates garments for renowned fashion labels. Exploited by his boss, Pasquale agrees to give lessons in dressmaking to Chinese irregular workers. The deprived area of Scampìa is torn apart by the war between the declining Di Lauro clan and the so- called Scissionisti (“Secessionists”). Don Ciro is in charge of delivering monthly payments to the relatives of imprisoned and fugitive Camorra members, the thirteen-year-old Totò is trained as a merciless criminal, and their friend Maria pays for her son's betrayal. Two teenagers, Ciro and Marco, try to emulate their cinematic model: Brian De Palma's Scarface (1983). Their awkward attempts to find a place in criminal society are soon halted. Franco is an expert businessman involved in illicit toxic waste management. Roberto, his assistant, witnesses the human, as well as material, devastation of his homeland.
Perhaps more anxiously than any other Italian film in the last decade, Gomorra was awaited as a huge sensation even before it was released. This was due to an array of different reasons: soon after the publication of the book upon which the film is based, in 2006, the 27 year-old author Roberto Saviano became an influential personality in the Italian socio-cultural landscape. However, because of the popularity gained by Gomorra, which for the first time brought the camorra to the attention of a mass readership, he was also forced to live under police protection after receiving death threats from the Camorra. The director Matteo Garrone had achieved box-office and – especially – critical success, thanks to his two previous films, L'imbalsamatore/The Embalmer (2002), and Primo amore/First Love (2004), both of which shaped morbid love affairs into gloomy forms which, according to many critics, resembled genre films, mainly American film noir.
Gomorra the film then, even before it was actually released, seemed to respond to a recurring need in Italian cinematic culture for a prestige adaptation that might also convey an important message to a large audience. Nevertheless it would be unfair to reduce the impact of Gomorra to its alleged social function, since Garrone's film treats the questions it addresses in a very specific way.
First of all, unlike the majority of the films exploring the criminal underworld, Gomorra offers the viewer no completely positive example and no redemptive hypothesis. Apart from in the final sequence there is no character that average viewers might easily identify with. Furthermore, the significance of those textual features, such as real-life settings, hand-held camera shots, and non-professional actors, which have been underlined by many reviewers, should not be overestimated. Rather than evidence of a presumptive neorealist heritage, these elements seem to display the plurivocal quality of a style that has been defined the ‘New Italian Epic’: in this style, Carlo Lucarelli’s Italian TV reports on real-life crime, and memories of Martin Scorsese's deglamorized gangsters are mixed with The Sopranos' depiction of daily life.
The world of Gomorra, therefore, is not constructed as the worlds of documentary or realistic cinema are, that is, in a way that can satisfy the curiosity and the hunger for knowledge of both the camera and the viewer. Gomorra’s actions rather appear as the creepy re-staging of something that has been already staged elsewhere: the episode of young Marco and Ciro is telling from this point of view. As the singer Raffaello, in the song running over the opening title, declares: ‘Our romance seems to be written by a TV cartoon’.
Furthermore, like stock characters, or carnival participants, the people of Gomorra bear upon their bodies the evidence of their role: they pursue and show off scars, tattoos, piercings, tans, and manicured hands as signs which allow those who wear them to play that game. Additionally, and like carnival fools, the main characters maintain an ambiguous attitude towards the camorra, both as observing outsiders and inner operators of the upside-down world they are involved in. In the last sequence we see Roberto simply walking down a country road after having quit his job. This shot would be pointless if we had not been watching, for more than two hours, people walking underground, a swimming pool lying on the roof of a building, kids driving trucks, and people travelling in car trunks.