Directed by Stefano Sollima
Starring Pierfrancesco Favino, Claudio Amendola, Greta Scarano
Released on 5th September 2016
He wears a zip-up cardigan with elbow patches, lives with his adoring mother and could be anybody’s grandad. But he’s the gangster at the centre of Suburra. And they call him Samurai.
The setting is Rome in November of 2011. Inside the walls of The Vatican, the Pope has given his first indication that he’s going to resign, sending shockwaves throughout his closest associates. Those waves ripple into the outside world, as the countdown is on for a huge deal to be signed which will transform the city’s waterfront into Italy’s Vegas. Samurai (Claudio Amendola) has everybody in his pocket – priests, politicians and other criminals – with money coming from the church as well. But when politician Malgradi (Pierfrancesco Favino) is involved in the death of an underage girl after a night of sex and drugs, it precipitates a series of gangland killings that threaten to derail everything.
Director Stefano Sollima was recently announced as being at the helm for the sequel to Sicario and this gives us a strong indication of what to expect. A meaty crime thriller, stylish, stylised and overflowing with swagger. It’s structured around the days leading up to Apocalypse, the ironic name for the day when the deal is signed and the first day sets up the three groups involved – the church, the politicians and the gangsters. It’s not long before they start to interweave so that the lines between them become severely blurred, from Samurai talking to a high ranking cleric about funds for the project to Malgradi calling in a favour from another politician to put the frighteners on a gangster who tries to blackmail him.
That’s simplifying it because, as the countdown continues, those lines become non-existent and the plot more complicated. In truth, there are moments when it becomes confusing and difficult to keep track with who is connected to who, but the way it layers corruption on top of deceit and conflict is superb and the tension ratchets up relentlessly.
None of the characters are especially sympathetic but, in the hands of such a powerful ensemble cast, they all get their moment in the sun – or, indeed, the pouring rain, which forms a near constant backdrop to the action. Malgradi is duplicitous, slippery and pathetic in turn, all sharp suits and artificially black hair. Samurai wears steel rimmed glasses and his eyes are equally steely, looking coldly and steadily at his adversaries. You never doubt that he means every word he says – and every one that he implies. Then there’s Manfredi (Adomo Dionisi), the terrifying head of a Romani family, regarded with racist contempt by the other local crooks and living in a chaotic compound overrun by his noisy extended family. And there’s Sebastiano (Elio Germano), a businessman connected to both politicians and gangsters and who finds himself dragged deeper and deeper into the mire.
Suburra has some genuine surprises and moments that make you wince, Manfredi’s eventual fate for one. And, while the story has some weaknesses, it’s still well constructed, making use of its tremendous cast and images that hit you right between the eyes. I don’t usually look forward to sequels but, on the basis of this, Sicario II can’t come soon enough.
Suburra is released on DVD on Monday, 5 September and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 8 September.