No Roman Holiday Here (Film Review: “Suburra”)

Italian crime drama, Suburra depicts a bloody & corrupt relationship between the Mafia, the Parliament and even the Vatican itself.

SnapShot Plot

After watching this gritty, violent and shocking crime thriller set in Rome, it’ll be hard to picture Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck innocently tooling around the Eternal City on a moped, ever again. Suburra (the name of one of Rome’s most ancient neighborhoods, albeit seedy even then) is a movie that has taken Italy by storm, and with Netflix’s arrival in that country just last month, it’s sure to engender a wide audience interest as a streaming title. In fact, the online service has just confirmed that Suburra will roll out in 2017 as Netflix’s first original Italian series. The 2015 film levels such a visceral grip on your senses from start to finish that it’s unlikely anyone will have dozed on it by the time the 10-episode premier season hits our virtual shores.

Well known international star, Pierfrancesco Favino plays Parliament member, Filippo Malgradi, an ambitious politico with a taste for young hookers and illicit drugs. He is at the center of a seemingly unwieldy group of seedy characters, including the crime boss known as Samurai (coolly portrayed by Claudio Amendola), who is a shadowy figure pulling strings in every sector of the Roman power grid in order to turn the gritty, seaside suburb of Ostia into Rome’s version of Las Vegas. In fact, the movie (and the subsequent series) is based on fact, adapted from the novel of the same name, co-written by Italian journalist Carlo Bonino and crime writer Giancarlo De Cataldo (himself a former judge in Rome who dealt first-hand with the crime family behind the Ostia scheme.) 

The criminal ensemble includes: a vicious local crime lord known as Numero 8 (elegantly played by Alessandro Borghi); his drug-addled girlfriend with a penchant for revenge, Viola (harrowingly depicted by Greta Scarano); and a  borderline sympathetic event organizer whose own moral blurriness signals his downfall; and you get the picture. Throw in a truly homicidal thug whose Gypsy clan makes the Sopranos look like the Royal Family, and it’s a miracle anyone gets out alive from this movie.



Parting Shot

The challenge in Suburra lies in identifying the least despicable character who you can root for. I’m not kidding. If you’re the kind of movie goer who needs to identify with a hero (guilty as charged) this movie will be a tough sell. If it weren’t made so brilliantly, if the acting weren’t so flawless, and the sheer world it created so mesmerizing, I might have hit Pause and called it a day. But I couldn’t turn away from it. Because on its deepest gut level, this is such a Human story, about the tragic intersection of Blind Ambition when it meets Raw Desperation. Anything can happen, and much of it does . . . horrifyingly.

As one might expect in a film like this, Rome herself is the key central character in Suburra. This is a Rome unlike the travelogues and romantic comedies and dramas to which we’re accustomed. This is a nocturnal, rain-soaked nether world of drugs, guns, prostitution and violence, a Rome that chews you up and spits you out, much like the Tiber River regurgitating its overflow, back-washing its murky water through ancient sewer drains on cobblestone streets. A word to the wise: stick with the guide book on your next visit to the Eternal City. You’ll be eternally glad you did.



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