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Suburra, directed by Stefano Sollima (Gomorrah, the upcoming Sicario sequel Soldado) and based on the novel of the same name co-written by Carlo Bonini & Giancarlo De Cataldo, is a harsh, unflinching Italian neo-noir film that boasts a talented cast and gorgeous cinematography, but struggles to resonate on an emotional level.
The movie has a sprawling cast of characters, whose actions are part of a complicated, interlocking chain of events – corrupt politicians, big time crime bosses, up-and-coming ambitious street thugs, loan sharks and others who get caught in their crossfire. Yet, Suburra juggles its various subplots expertly, making sure it never becomes too convoluted or hard to follow.
The church subplot is the only one that feels a bit out of place – it makes sense from a thematic perspective to show how even religion is crumbling on the eve of the city’s destruction, but the subplot itself doesn’t really come together with what’s happening in the rest of the movie.
Regardless, Suburra does succeed in painting a picture of a decadent, crime-riddled Rome that’s dangling on the edge of a cliff. It plays out like a slowly unfolding trainwreck as each character inadvertently contributes to the situation spiraling out of control. A seven day countdown to the Apocalypse segments the film, firmly establishing that this city, these people are beyond redemption. Morbid curiosity will keep you to the end. The bleak, yet gorgeous cinematography and haunting score maintain a sense of gloom and despair throughout.
That being said, Suburra fails somewhat to really draw you in. There’s a pervasive sense of distance from the events of the film that makes the whole thing have less of an impact than it should. The situation is so hopeless, so tragic, that it has a very numbing effect – perhaps too much so.
What it really lacks is a relatable central character to ground the tragedy of their surroundings. Watching the naive idealism of Emily Blunt’s FBI agent get chewed up and spit out by the world around her in the far superior Sicario really cemented the brutal nature of what happens in that movie. Suburra has one or two characters you might feel sorry for, but it doesn’t have that anchor that ties the whole thing together and puts it into perspective.
It’s a shame, because at its core, this is an expertly made and utterly compelling movie, with a grand sense of scope and strong, dedicated performances from Italian actors Pierfrancesco Favino, Elio Germano, Claudio Amendola and many others. It falls just short of greatness, but it certainly comes close enough to warrant watching.
Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment is bringing Suburra to UK Home Entertainment on DVD, Blu-Ray and digitally on September 5, 2016.