Biography, Crime, Drama, Gambino Crime Family, John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Kevin Connolly, Review, Spencer Lofranco, True story
D: Kevin Connolly / 109m
Cast: John Travolta, Spencer Lofranco, Kelly Preston, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Stacy Keach, William DeMeo, Leo Rossi, Chris Kerson, Chris Mulkey
Where to begin…
It’s not just that Gotti is a bad movie – and it really, truly is – it’s that watching it you begin to wonder if anyone working on it had any idea of how misguided and inept it all was, from the opening scene that sees Travolta as Gotti breaking the fourth wall and beginning to tell his story from beyond the grave, to the final scene, where Travolta as Gotti again speaks to camera and brags that you’ll never see anyone like him ever again. These scenes are bad enough, what with their eulogising of Gotti and his flamboyant look, but they’re overwhelmed by the sheer awfulness of what unfolds between them. This is a movie that doesn’t so much shy away from being impartial, as get into an Indy 500 car and race off into the distance at top speed in order to do so, and it’s not long before you realise that the script – by cast member Leo Rossi and Lem Dobbs – has been constructed to lionise Gotti and his life of crime. In other, more capable hands, the contemporary footage of Gotti supporters praising him in the wake of his death in 2002, would have been used to make an ironic statement about his public persona; instead they’re used for exactly what they are: idolaters remembering (for them) a great man.
In terms of a wider ineptitude, Gotti struggles to get anything right. Having decided to impose a non-linear narrative on itself, the movie plays like a rough cut where scenes have been jumbled together and still need to be assembled in an effective, relatable order. It’s a lucky coincidence if one scene follows another and there’s a connection between them, and many are short, leaden and lacking in relevance. Gotti‘s editor, Jim Flynn, fumbles reaction shots, drains scenes of any energy or flow, and makes what should have been one of the movie’s standout set pieces, the execution of Gambino Crime Family boss Paul Castellano, into an exercise in how not to depict a shootout. It’s a mess of randomly stitched together shots that leaves the viewer with no way of knowing who is shooting who, or how many times, or where from (and that’s without the CG blood spurts). In fairness, Flynn’s job may have been made more difficult thanks to a lack of coverage provided by the movie’s director, but even if that is the case then it serves only as confirmation that Connolly, whose previous outing, Dear Eleanor (2016), is well worth seeking out, is here either out of his depth or hasn’t learnt very much during the course of his twenty year plus directing career.
It would be some consolation if the performances offered a respite from the dreary depictions of backroom betrayals, the travails of John Gotti Jr (Lofranco) – here made out to be something of a paragon of virtue for turning his back on his criminal lifestyle – and several random killings that are meant to mean something but never do. However, Travolta aside (this became a personal project designed to give a boost to his ailing career), it appears that the rest of the cast decided that because of the script’s propensity for volumes of exposition, and its lack of a coherent story, as well as its wafer thin characterisations, that a minimum amount of effort should be expended. Travolta tries too hard, and grinds his teeth a lot in that way that he has when he wants his character to be taken seriously, and Connolly does nothing to rein him in or modulate the performance. (Spare a thought though for Lofranco, taking on the role of Gotti Jr and having to create the character from scratch; as far as the script is concerned he’s a blank page.) In the end, the script gives Gotti an elegiac send-off, providing further evidence that this is far from the gritty exposé viewers might be expecting, and instead something that could easily pass as a celebration of a smartly dressed murderer – and without the judgement.
Rating: 3/10 – a terrible movie about a terrible man, Gotti sinks to new levels of silliness, stupidity and inadequacy, and works best as an object lesson in how not to put together a true crime biography; fully deserving of whatever criticism can be levelled against it, it’s a movie that feels like a patchwork quilt of bad intentions and low ideas, and which routinely undermines itself at every turn, leaving it looking and sounding like the trainwreck of all trainwrecks.