The Movie Waffler New to Amazon Prime Video - PIRANHAS | The Movie Waffler

New to Amazon Prime Video - PIRANHAS

piranhas review
A Neapolitan teenager and his friends are drawn into the Mafia underworld of Naples.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Claudio Giovannesi

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

piranhas poster

One of the most irritating clichés that stuffy old gits aim towards the yute is that, instead of sitting around playing on their phones/ necking pills/ getting off with each other, they should be out climbing trees or the like (don’t think it happens? Hold your nose and seek out that godawful ‘Look Up’ viral video by Gary Turk: actually, don’t. No need to encourage the patronising creep). You wonder what these squares would think, then, when the disaffected male youth of Naples - kids immersed in a dead end culture of crime and violence and hierarchal mafioso - decide to climb a tree together in the opening sequence of Claudio Giovannesi’s Piranhas (screenplay by Giovannesi, along with Roberto Saviano and Maurizio Braucci, based on the novel by Roberto ‘Gomorrah’ Saviano). Perhaps it would be heart-warming, except for the fact that this particular topiary is a massive Christmas tree displayed in a mall, with baubles and everything, which the lads climb, fall, and then drag off to some waste land before setting fire to. Gangbangers, you gotta cazzo love ‘em!

piranhas review

Just wild kids looking for a way to liven up the cold December evenings, and, in this case at least, who can blame them? Their cramped, maze-like town is run by greasy enforcers who extort the local shop keepers (including the mum of our hero, Nicola, played by the astoundingly watchable Francesco Di Napoli), their influence creating a binary feudal system of those who have, and those who don’t. Our bunch of happy go lucky vandals (think a Mediterranean Inbetweeners; that authentic awkwardness) are part of the latter: they can’t even get in to the local club, which requires a €500 bribe for the bouncer. Lead kid Nicola wants more, though. He is a romantic soul, who enjoys poetry and stops to help out girls on the side of the road, telling off his boys for acting the prick around them. Not exactly a thug. Charming, intelligent and a born leader: in another life, he could have been anything he wanted. In Naples, however, the die is cast.

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It is a familiar trajectory, but Piranhas makes it seem fresh and vital. The Naples setting is both gorgeous but also deeply shadowed and treacherous, while the kids are convincingly green and eager. There is no real glamour here, it is not as if as far back as they can remember these children wanted to be a gangster: they just inevitably, disastrously, fall into it. This is due to their tragic social context, but the imperial charisma of Nicola also plays a part, too. As his keystone goons make a name for themselves, Di Napoli's performance is central; his warm allure and desperation to not be put upon driving his gang’s ambitions. Late teens, with a younger brother, there is no father figure in Nicola’s life - he aspires to be a self-made man. And it isn’t as if Nicola really enjoys the spoils of his role, either: he is a one woman guy (the girl whom he stopped to help out on the side of the road - awwww!), and when he takes her on a date to the opera, he is enamoured by the soft satin finish of the seats. God, you want this kid to win.

piranhas review

And so, you can’t help but cheer when he gets hold of a gun by sheer will power and chutzpah: by waiting around the cop shop late at night, bum rushing a tired Carabinieri and nicking his gun from his holster. And then later you can’t help but laugh when these little Caesar Romeros try to shoot up a mob front with the same piece; the gun jams, and the escape route is blocked by a massive truck. Yikes!

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The film matches the naïve energy of its protagonists, and the plot zips along like one of the de rigueur mopeds the lads use to negotiate their labyrinthine territories. Life moves pretty fast here and pauses for breath are rare: except for one moment, when the gang are in that self-same nightclub they were turned away from those few months ago. This time, they are in their full-on lads on the razz pomp, dancing rhythmlessly to Daft Punk ('Giorgio by Moroder, of course), popping corks and hoofing gak. Except Nicola, whom the camera picks out as solitary and pensive: what happens now, he’s thinking, where does this end?

piranhas review

I despise mob films usually, with their stupid macho codes and disingenuous glorifications of what basically amounts to bullying, but as the gang increase in influence, getting paid and decamping to the local boutique with all the discernment of a kid in the Primark sale, as they giggle and do coke for the first time, it is so, so cute. While other gangster films are fantasies for and about manchildren, depicting so-so tough guys conspicuously consuming and killing people with their cowardly guns, Piranhas makes emotional sense precisely because it is about actual children entering this playground world of simplistic pleasures, so-called territories and stupid violence. Murder, crime and violence never seemed so heartbreakingly innocent.

Piranhas is on Amazon Prime Video UK now.