I love good gangster films. I love good biographical dramas. I love John Travolta when he’s actually in good films. This is none of those things.
As you can tell, Gotti is a crime biographical drama about New York City mobster John Gotti and directed by Kevin Connolly. The film stars John Travolta as well as Gotti.
Before I get into this film, I want to bring attention to who Gotti was and what he did. This was a man who controlled one of America’s most powerful crime syndicates and one that made millions of dollars off of racketeering, hijacking, loan sharking, drug trafficking, bookmaking, prostitution, extortion, pornography, illegal gambling, and other criminal activities. Not to mention he only became boss after organizing the murder of his former boss. Aside from that, he was a very outspoken and flamboyant individual favored by a part of the general public. During which he went through several court cases and continuously tracked and followed by law enforcement. He actually did a pretty good job avoiding prison until he was ratted out by one of his own associates.
This is a straightforward summary of Gotti’s history, but I needed to do it to make a point. With everything that he did, the potential to turn this story into cinematic greatness was there. All a film centered on this would need the right cast and crew to do this material justice. Which makes it all the more incredible that this film completely butchers all of it in the worse way possible.
This awful, awful film in aspects I didn’t even think could happen to begin with. First off, what should have been a relatively straightforward plot is made incoherent through bizarre storytelling decisions. The film randomly jumps through points in Gotti’s history without any rhyme or reason. I guess we’re following this story from how Gotti’s ghost is telling us, but then also what Gotti near-death tells his son, but then also his rise in the mob. It’s the type of thing if I talk you to about that would sound easy to follow, but the way the film structures these events is so jumbled to the point of destroying any sense of investment I could have had. And that’s is amazing to me considering what actually happens. With so much history ripe for exploration, how could a film handle it so poorly?
Speaking of Gotti, let’s talk about how this film portrays the boss himself. With how badly the events in this film are organized, it comes as no shock that the film fails to make Gotti himself compelling. John Travolta’s performance is, for lack of a better word, confusing. It’s kinda hammy to the point of being bad, but also kinda feels very dull. I didn’t feel I was watching an accurate depiction of Gotti, rather Travolta working under some rather bad direction. It doesn’t feel real to me. Not to mention Travolta’s New York accent is hilariously off and kills any sense of drama needed for this film.
But what is even worse is how we’re meant to see Gotti. Now mob films (Think The Godfather or Goodfellas) have often been accused of trying to glorify gangsters, or we’re meant to see them in a positive light despite the horrid acts they commit. Now the difference between the good ones and a film like Gotti is nuance, or in this case, the lack of it. In Goodfellas, for instance, the mob life could seem like the life to live at first glance, but the film makes the point that under all of that glamour is a seedy underbelly in which the consequences could be potentially fatal. By the end, it’s made clear that being involved with the mob is a near surefire way of ending up in prison or killed.
At the same time, though, that film’s characters (Who were also based on real people’s minds) were also well written and performed. They felt like real people that we could be invested in but also condemn them for their actions. Gotti, for whatever reason, tries to make us side with the man himself on every issue even though he’s still a ruthless mafia don who murders, bribes, or threatens anyone who opposes him, and treats the government as the bad guys because they tried to prosecute him… for crimes of which he was entirely guilty, a fact that the movie does very little to hide by the way. There’s trying to make us invested and then trying to absolve him of any wrongdoing. That, to me, entirely misses the point of what makes a good gangster film, to begin with. They should thrive off of moral ambiguity and use it to tell some really compelling stories. Not like with this cookie-cutter mess.
There isn’t much that this film does that I would call decent. It looks well produced in some regards, I guess. The costumes and locations look just about right. I can see any of the actors in this film not named Travolta doing pretty alright if they were actually given something really meaty to work with. And honestly, that’s about it. The soundtrack? Forget about it. The choice to use music from Pitbull does not work at all (And furthers trying to make Gotti someone we should side with ever more thinking about it) and feels like it’s trying to make the movie cooler than what it actually is.
Look, if you wanted to watch a good gangster film, you’re better off sticking with the classics or the upcoming The Irishman to get that mob fix. Gotti is how not to do a gangster film in just about every aspect. And with such a good story to work off of too. Stay far, far away from this one.