Based on the book by Roberto Saviano (Gomorrah) this won the best screenplay at the Berlin film festival and is a youthfully slick homage to the mafia crime world of Naples. Whilst no one is condoning any illegal kind of behaviour you can’t deny this genre’s popularity and our general fascination with organised crime. This story isn’t totally averse to glamourizing gangs and violence either, but its major difference to the likes of Goodfellas is putting the spotlight on the youth of today and how easily influenced they can be and how quickly they can be drawn into crime. The rites of passage leading into criminality are part of everyday culture in society and it’s all put together here with the delightful backdrop of the winding streets of Naples, in the warmth and safety of good storytelling.

The film wastes no time setting the scene with the boys, the gangs and the territorial rivalry; there’s something very Lord of the Flies about the bonfire at the beginning with the ritual singing, half naked dancing and painted faces. The lead protagonist is 15-year-old Nico who lives with his younger brother and his young mum. He sees his mum giving protection money to the local mafia on his way out with his friends. He’s a good-hearted kid who has values especially when it comes to seeing his mother being extorted. When the boys go out, they help some girls who have run out of gas and give them a lift to the nightclub. The boys don’t get past the security because they don’t have enough money and have to return to the local diner, down-hearted but not undeterred. Here they witness the intimidation from the ruling mafia family and Nico sees the opportunity to get the money he needs for the nightclub and to get the girl. And so begins his ambitious plotting to put things right as his gang of mates take their first baby-steps into the world of crime and the riches and rewards that come with it but of course all this doesn’t come without getting involved with some pretty unsavoury people.

There are lots of nice moments such as with the old don under house arrest when speaking to the young kid, asks him why he doesn’t play football instead, to which the kid replies he was never good at playing football and when the gang of lads get the guns they need and light up the roof top terraces of Naples in practice, they learn how to use their automatic weapons with the aid of some internet tutorials; all giving the film some nice modern touches that lighten the overshadowing ominousness of a well known story.

It’s glaringly obvious from the start it’s boys against men but it smartly shows how easy it is to slip into a life of crime and with the continuity of youth, keen to show their worth, drawn to the thrill and no doubt the rewards with little worry about the consequences, the film would suggest this remains as popular in society today as it has been in the movies.

Quickly caught up in their own merry go round of criminal ambitions, power-hungry families and individuals with varying degrees of loyalty and observance of territorial boundaries making money in organised crime: drug trafficking and racketing. With tit-for-tat follies, success comes at a price and although the violence isn’t overly violent it’s significant enough to make its point with the sad loss of young lives.

Roberto Saviano is a knowledgeable and skilled story teller in the Italian mafia genre (he received death threats and is still under police protection since his highly acclaimed book Gomorrah was written, similarly based on the Camorra mafia of Naples. Does he have some kind of death wish?) and with the film’s use of local actors all bring complete authenticity to what in the end feels too short a film about the rapid rise of a boy and his mates’ involvement in the local mafia gangs. Perhaps this is due to the influence of director Claudio Giovannesi, who having shot episodes of the TV series Gomorrah, has given the film a slick, fast tempo to get the story told and suggest great series potential.

Link to trailer

Film: Piranhas

Director: Claudio Giovannesi

Cast: Francesco Di Napoli, Viviana Aprea, Mattia Piano Del Balzo, Ciro Vecchione, Ciro Pellechia

Genre: Crime / Drama

Runtime: 105 Minutes

Rating: 5/5

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