Coming to us from director Kevin Connolly (Entourage, Unhappily Ever After) we have the biographical crime drama Gotti which tells the story of real life New York mobster John Gotti (John Travolta) and his son John Gotti Jr (Spencer Rocco Lofranco).
For three decades, John Gotti ran the Gambino Crime Family in New York, and in this film we find him near the end of his life, imprisoned and dying of throat cancer, while his son attempts to seek his father’s approval to take a plea deal with the government which will see him move away from organised crime. The film is told in flashback, following Gotti’s rise to power, his relationship with his family, and his frequent tangles with the US Government that earned him the nickname of ‘The Teflon Don’ as he repeatedly beat their attempts to bring him down in court.
The parallels to The Godfather are plain to see, the emphasis on family, loyalty, following one man’s rise to power and what it cost him. There is only one small problem with this comparison. The Godfather is a masterpiece while Gotti is a dull, uninspired, lifeless movie filled with paper thin characters that we know almost nothing about. Perhaps it was assumed that as this is based on the story of real people, there was no need to delve too deeply into their characters or their pasts, the issue there being that the audience is left with no real connection to anyone in this film. Was Gotti a monster? A family man? A working class hero? A monster? The film makes no real attempt at answering that, though Gotti himself is given plenty of time to swagger and talk about the evils of government in the film’s 98 minutes or so runtime. We jump from moment to moment, from scene to scene of Gotti’s life, with little attempt made to connect them into a unified whole to show us what sort of man our main character actually was.
The ending of the film, rather than focusing on the title character of Gotti himself, suddenly focuses on the son instead, commenting on how the US Government used over a hundred different witnesses to try and convict Gotti Jr, witnesses that included murderers and violent offenders who were then released back onto the streets once the trials were done. If there is an attempt at an anti-Government message here, it falls flat. During the film we have seen both father and son involved in organised crime, both willing participants in breaking the law. Gotti Jr even openly states that becoming a true member of the mob is the greatest day of his life and yet the end of the film attempts to elicit some sort of sympathy for Gotti Jr and his fight against the US Government which is both jarring and tone deaf.
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The performances within the film are… fine. Just fine. Travolta is entertaining, though he appears to have modelled his performance on every American gangster you’ve ever seen, adopting an almost stereotypical swagger in every scene, every little tic and mannerism looking like it could have been pulled from the pages of any pulp novella, though a lot of that is down to the script as much as the acting. We’re given no opportunity to see anything but the veneer of what Gotti was and the scenes between him and his family are given little opportunity to grow and evolve.
The action scenes, what few there are, are again just fine. The story is told competently enough, the production and direction are both fine, but there’s no life here, no spark of genius, no connection to these characters or their troubles to make the audience actually care. We are told things about these characters, but never shown them, and the end result is we are left with a film that appears to be trying very hard to paint Gotti and his family as stand up citizens (despite all that killing and crime) and the government as just out to get them. That might work better if the previous ninety minutes hadn’t shown us the exact opposite.
This DVD release comes to us with a single special feature, a ten minute long featurette called ‘Making Gotti’ which has interviews with the director and the cast talking about the making of the film. It’s mostly just fluff interspersed with clips from the film.
Initially announced in 2010, this movie bounced from director to director and lead actor to lead actor before production really began in 2015. In retrospect, perhaps it would have been better that this project had just quietly died in development hell.