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New Release Review - SUBURRA

When a prostitute overdoses in a politician's hotel room, it triggers a war among Rome's criminal factions.





Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Stefano Sollima

Starring: Pierfrancesco Favino, Greta Scarano, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Elio Germano, Giulia Gorietti



Combining the tough, violent crime thrillers of 1970s Italian exploitation cinema with the gloss and sophistication of modern day European TV, Suburra is intelligent but explosive, a feast for the synapses and the adrenaline. Decades after Coppola and Scorsese mined such territory, the Italian crime saga has made a triumphant return to the old country.



Named after a notorious suburb of Ancient Rome, Suburra is adapted from the novel of the same name by the Italian writing duo of Carlo Bonini and Giancarlo De Cataldo. Netflix have announced plans for a 10 part spin-off series due to premiere next year on the streaming service, but Stefano Sollima's big screen thriller packs more drama and plot twists into its 135 minutes than you'll find in a full season of most TV shows. 10 more hours of this story is an exciting prospect, but until its small screen follow-up arrives, this is a two hour binge-watch of the most satisfying kind.


The dense and labyrinthine plot is set in motion when MP Filippo Malgradi's (Pierfrancesco Favino) hotel room romp with a pair of hookers ends with one of the girls dead from an overdose. The surviving girl, Sabrina (Giulia Elettra Gorietti), tells Filippo she can phone a friend and get this little mess cleaned up, so he promptly legs it home to his wife and son. The next morning however Filippo receives a visit at his office from young gypsy hood Dagger (Giacomo Ferrara), who disposed of the corpse and now intends holding Filippo to ransom.

Meanwhile, following his father's suicide, Sebastiano (Elio Germano) inherits the family business, along with a heavy financial debt owed to gypsy loan shark Manfredi Anacleti (a terrifying Adamo Dionisi), who just happens to be Dagger's elder brother. Add to the mix volatile young mobster Aureliano (Alessandro Borghi) and his even more erratic junkie girlfriend Viola (Greta Scarano), whose reckless ways draw the ire of Samurai (Claudio Amendola), a veteran gangster and the most feared man in Rome.


Suburra tosses all these elements in the air and revels in the chaos of their plummet back to the ground. The plot is jam packed with characters and sub-plots, but so skillful is the storytelling that it's never remotely confusing, allowing us to immerse ourselves in the drama without any head-scratching. It's a sad reminder that English language cinema no longer seems capable of sating the needs of those who enjoy a well constructed crime thriller. There's none of the confusion and chaos of the plot of something like Triple 9 here; every character's motivation is laid out in simple fashion. Here, the script does the work, not the viewer.

Sollima's film features a fascinating rogues gallery, and he understands the importance of making a character visibly iconic. Last year's French crime epic The Connection had viewers struggling to tell its characters apart, as everyone dressed alike and shared similar haircuts, but all the players of Suburra are instantly distinguishable, from the perpetually Armani suited Filippo to the elaborately tattooed Aureliano; they each make an instant impact as soon as they enter the stage.


Apart from his 2012 feature A.C.A.B, Sollima (son of the great spaghetti western director Sergio Sollima), has been working in TV, on similar crime sagas like Romanzo Criminale and Gomorrah, but this is very much the work of a cinematic filmmaker. There isn't an ounce of fat on the dialogue, and Sollima constructs some memorable set-pieces, notably a shopping mall shootout and a late fatal ambush. The Roman streets, soaked in rain and neon, are captured beautifully by cinematographer Paolo Carnera (who collaborated with Sollima on the aforementioned TV shows). Pasquale Catalano's score washes over the visuals, adding to the Michael Mann-esque atmosphere.

Combining the tough, violent crime thrillers of 1970s Italian exploitation cinema with the gloss and sophistication of modern day European TV, Suburra is intelligent but explosive, a feast for the synapses and the adrenaline. Decades after Coppola and Scorsese mined such territory, the Italian crime saga has made a triumphant return to the old country.

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