Netflix UK film review: Suburra
Ivan Radford | On 24, Jun 2016
Director: Stefano Sollima
Cast: Pierfrancesco Favino, Adamo Dionisi, Greta Scarano
Watch Suburra online in the UK: Netflix UK / Curzon Home Cinema / iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / TalkTalk TV Store / Wuaki.tv / Google Play
“You gotta make room for me. I’m sittin’ at this table too.” That’s an Italian thug in Suburra, as he tries to carve out a piece of the criminal pie in Suburra – aptly enough, he’s called Dagger. The pie, we soon learn, is a big very one. But that only means everyone wants a piece. Welcome to Rome.
The title refers to a quarter of the city that, in ancient Roman times, was saturated in sleaze. Centuries later, not much has changed. Based on the book by Giancarlo De Cataldo and Carlo Bonini, the story is set in 2011, as Italy struggles to secure a bailout from the financial crisis.
It’s hard to imagine a more topical setting, at a time when many countries’ relationships with the EU are in flux. Italy’s history, though, is just as tied to the mafia as it is Caesar’s brothels. Indeed, Stefano Sollima has a lot of competition in the crime cinema stakes: he’s hardly swimming in brand new waters.
The director comes to the project fresh off the back of TV series Gomorrah, which chronicled a similar story of corruption and killing in Naples. Fans of the show will know what to expect: cinematic visuals, sumptuous style and an appetite for biting off complex chains of revenge and bribery to chew over.
The film doesn’t skimp on the latter: we are immediately introduced to politician Filippo Malgradi (Pierfrancesco Favino), who doesn’t bat an eyelid at telling his wife he’s in a committee meeting so he can have drug-fuelled sex with prostitutes. When one underage woman dies, though, he finds himself disposing of a body. Enter Dagger, who, in turn, brings to the table his brother, Manfredi (Adamo Dionisi). Attempted blackmail and some bloody blade action later, and Malgradi is up to his neck in a real estate deal, a mafia veteran, Samurai (Claudio Amendola), a heavy called Number 8 (Alessandro Borghi), and a pack of nasty dogs that makes Ramsay Bolton look like the kid from Air Bud.
The cast are all convincingly despicable or menacing, while the script’s pace excels in keeping events firmly on the brink of spiralling out of control. The visuals are just as dauntingly ambitious, as Sollima fills his frame with all the genre cool you could wish for. But there’s a downbeat, edgy mood, fuelled by the oppressive, relentless rain, that separates this from the classics of the genre: Suburra is more Gomorrah than The Godfather and all the better for it. Even the music is disarmingly contemporary, as the familiar parade of violence is accompanied by the electronic sounds of M83, something that Don Corleone wouldn’t touch with a barge pole.
It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that rather than pale in comparison to Francis Ford Coppola’s work, Sollima’s flick struggles to compete with his own small screen work, if only because Suburra would benefit from more time to explore its narrative in detail and flesh out its supporting characters (particularly its women). The good news is that a Netflix series based on the movie is already on the way. Until then, Suburra serves up two gripping hours that are well worth bingeing. And with Sollima at the helm of both, one thing is certain: this is a film-maker worth making room for.
Suburra is available on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.49 monthly subscription.