R, 105 mins.
2018, R, 105 mins.
John Travolta as John Gotti / Kelly Preston as Victoria Gotti / Stacy Keach as Neil Dellacroce / Pruitt Taylor Vince as Angelo Ruggiero / Ella Bleu Travolta as Angel Gotti / Lydia Hull as Prosecutor Giacalone / Spencer Lofranco as John Gotti Jr. / Jordan Trovillion as Angel Gotti
Directed by Kevin Connolly / Written by Lem Dobbs
GOTTI is the BATTLEFIELD EARTH of fact based mob dramas. It simply has no business being as categorically awful as it is.
The film is, of course, based on the life of notorious Italian American New York residing John Gotti, who became one of the most powerful and ruthless mob bosses in the Big Apple's history. There's a sprawling, epic, and compellingly layered crime drama to be made from this criminal, but GOTTI is so amateurishly and pathetically scripted, directed, and edited that you have to think about what was going on in the collective minds of the people in front of and behind the camera during its production.
concocted film is made all the more shameful because it wastes a fairly
decent and dedicated performance by John Travolta that plays the titular
character over the course of thirty years in the story.
By the end of the film you're left wondering how much better this
subject matter and Travolta's work here could have been supremely elevated
by a more competent production.
GOTTI went through terrible production hell to finally reach its
mindlessly mediocre current state, with several years passing by and
several prominent directors (like Barry Levinson) passing on the project,
which is usually the qualitative kiss of death for any film, mob related
or not. The whole framework
for how Gotti rose to prominence and unlimited stature through the ranks
of New York's Gambino crime family and finally to being the city's
overruling boss seems ripe for cinematic exploration.
This guy's rap sheet - involving his 1992 conviction for five
murders, racketeering, obstruction of justice, tax evasion, illegal
gambling, extortion and loan sharking (following acquittal in three high
profile trials in the 1980s that cemented "The Dapper Don" as
also a "Teflon Don") - is almost enough for mini-series
treatment in terms of its scope and scale.
Unfortunately, GOTTI is so scattershot in approach and ultimately
misguided in terms of its basic focus that the resulting film feels like a
brief and ill framed snapshot of its historical figure instead of a
thoroughly engrossing portrait of him.
That, and GOTTI commits the unforgivable sin of being numbingly
without any flare, finesse and basic proficiency by Kevin Connolly (yes,
"E" from HBO's ENTOURAGE, who seems several competency layers
removed from a filmmaker like Levinson), GOTTI becomes creatively
lethargic within its opening minutes, which showcases Travolta's aging
crook breaking the fourth wall by telling audiences that "This life
ends one of two ways: Dead, or in jail.
I did both."
There's nothing inherently wrong with a voiceover narration track
from beyond the grave, but here it seems woefully gimmicky and to help
spice up an already lackluster screenplay.
Told ostensibly through his voice and POV, GOTTI's features a
jarringly meandering and convoluted overarching plot that confusingly
jumps back and forth in time, mostly without any fluidity, as Gotti in the
present - battling cancer and facing a lengthy prison sentence - tries to
convince his son (Spencer Rocco Lofranco) not to take a plea deal with the
Feds, seeing as he thinks they will betray him and put him behind bars.
From there we get awkwardly constructed vignettes from various
stages of Gotti's life in organized crime, not to mention life at home
with his beleaguered wife (Travolta's real life spouse Kelly Preston).
We also see
earliest days in crime, seeing him climb the corporate crime ladder, so to
speak, in the Gambino crime family under the tutelage of his mentor
(Stacey Keach), and he becomes mostly successful with his superiors
because of his abilities to eradicate their enemies without fear or
hesitation. The film then
tries to dig deeper into Gotti's emergence as an unstoppable mobster
force that he became famous for, known for his flamboyant style and
appealingly outspoken personality that made him a strange folk hero for
some misguided souls in New York. Gotti's
crimes, as history has shown, did catch up with him, and perhaps the only
scenes that generate any dramatic or emotional impact are the ones showing
his frail and diseased facade trying to convince his son to not work with
law enforcement to curtail his own sentence.
The only thing
that made GOTTI even passably endurable was the presence of Travolta, who
manages to create a genuinely layered and lived in performance when the
entire film around him begins crumble without any hope of saving.
It's a tricky acting challenge in the sense that Travolta has to
capture Gotti's endlessly cocky demeanor and his vicious nastiness that
made him both respected and feared, and for the most part Travolta does a
credible job of inhabiting this man, even when some questionably shoddy
makeup choices almost betray his good work.
The central challenge of most mob movies is that they tend to
glorify their main antagonists to the point where you're enthusiastically
and misguidedly rooting for them like anti-heroes, but Travolta seems in on the
notion that Gotti was a beloved media figure because of his innate charm, but
when all is said and done he was also a sadistic man that killed a
lot of people and without mercy or remorse.
overturn Travolta's commendably decent turn here, though, is the film's laughably
misplaced sense of morality when it comes to what it thinks of Gotti as a
person. If anyone were to
watch GOTTI and didn't do their own homework on the man going in then they'd learn
that he was mostly a loving family man and a pretty okay guy, not to
mention that his
son was a poor victim of the government persecuting his family as a whole.
This all rings so categorically and obnoxiously false.
Connolly peppers GOTTI with actual archival footage of everyday New
Yorkers of the era extolling Gotti - upon his death - as a man that got a
bad rap and, when the chips were down, had the little guy's back and made neighborhoods
little effort is made by Connolly to present other archival footage
showing the flip side to citizen's views of the gangster as a man that
killed and cheated his way to the top of an unpardonable criminal empire.
The fact that Connolly seems to be propping up Gotti as some sort
of saintly figure that should be forgiven for his crimes is patently
indefensible and shows this film's warped perogative.
really helped either with the overall screenplay unrelentingly segueing
from one unrelated moment of Gotti's life to the next, and the fractured
nature of the storytelling here makes for a
hazardously muddled and confusing film.
GOTTI displays very little narrative patience with its material and Connolly seems instead foolishly inclined to rush from one
beat to the next, leaving the coherence of what's being presented all the
more lacking. A free wheeling
approach can often make slow films work better and generate stronger forward
momentum, but GOTTI feels twice as long as its relatively short running
time suggests as it hastily flashes from one scene to the next and, in the
end, leaves us the barest of bare impressions of what really made Gotti
tick. Maybe the film would
have worked better if it squared in on John Jr. and his perspective of
his father's life (the film is based on his self published memoir), but
GOTTI is so damn unwilling to settle down and spend time shaping the
material. Even very astute
audience members - myself included - will struggle to figure out what time
period one sequence is in separate from another and how they relate to one
GOTTI is, for
lack of a better word, a mess. The
decades spanning real life story of one man's journey from made man to crime
boss should have been a proverbial win-win and one for the
ages as far as the genre is concerned, but GOTTI is so thematically tone
deaf, so insipidly handled, and so monumentally disposable as a mob
film; why any creative team would have bothered in
the first place is a stupefying mystery. And Travolta
- a great actor when given the right material and filmmakers to work with
- could have led the charge of a masterful portrait of the Dapper Don.
Instead, he - and much of the decent supporting cast - is
infuriatingly wasted and forced to inhabit a movie that's barely worthy
for theatrical release. No
mob movie should make you fidget in your theater seat out of sheer disdain
and boredom as much as GOTTI does.
In relation to other classic example of its genre, this one is of the swimming
with the fishes variety...it's simply D.O.A.