Movie Review: Gotti
Director: Kevin Connolly
by Jason Koenigsberg
What should have been one of the biggest roles of a great actors career is instead going to be remembered as a footnote or a curio in both the legacies of John Travolta and notorious New York Mafia Boss John Gotti. Instead it is just a subpar biopic. Gotti felt more like an out of order highlight reel of the man’s life than an actual movie.
The film opens up with some mundane establishing shots of New York City and then Travolta as the titular Teflon Don John Gotti immediately breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the audience. Right away this film does not know what they want to do and from the opening moments the tone is all over the place between comedy, drama and docudrama showing real footage of John Gotti over the opening credits, immediately undermining Travolta’s performance which to be honest is not that bad and neither is his wife Kelly Preston’s as Victoria Gotti, they are just surrounded by a terrible movie.
The look of Gotti tried to emulate a lot of the iconic shots from The Godfather (1972), the seminal Mafia movie with stationary camera placement and lighting that was more generic than the low key cinematography of Gordon Willis’. This Gotti movie felt like something directed by a 19 year old NYU film student. The soundtrack is even worse than the look of the film with popular hit songs from the 70’s and 80’s that told the audience too much about what would happen before the action in the scene took place. It was cliched and tried too hard to imitate Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990), another classic Mafia movie.
Those missteps are not the only problems with Gotti. The most glaring flaw was with the structure of the narrative. The movie jumps all over the timeline of John Gotti’s life which serves no purpose to enhance the film or the characters or the dramatic arc. Early on we see Travolta as Gotti, the way he looks during the majority of the movie as the Dapper Don the public knew, then we see him as a young man doing his first hit on a guy, then it cuts to him in prison dying from cancer talking to his son. No idea why the film was structured this way but the narrative is made even worse by the fact that Gotti moves very fast. They cram his entire life into an hour and forty-five minutes which is too fast to give John Gotti and his infamous legacy the credit it deserves. It does capture the media frenzy that surrounded him and how he was a celebrity for being a criminal with reporters following his every movie the way they do movie stars.
The biggest cinematic sin of Gotti is that because the pacing is so fast and it felt more like a highlight reel of his life than a biography is that the audience never gets a chance to care about any of the characters or their relationship with John Gotti. Neil Dellacroce (Stacy Keach) was like a father figure to John Gotti, but in this movie his few scenes were rushed and their relationship was never developed. The same goes for his friend Angelo Ruggiero (Pruitt Taylor Vince). They have a few quick scenes together with the two men and their families but the best friend bond between the two men is never established and then poof, he is dead and Travolta is standing over a grave looking solemn.
The only character that gets any important scenes other than John Gotti is his son John Gotti Jr. and how he tried to follow in his father’s footsteps and then eventually get out of the mob life so the government would leave him alone. A good portion of the film is told through his perspective but life the rest of Gotti it felt rushed and the audience never gets a chance to care about his son either. They could have dedicated the film to the father-son angle but from the looks of it this movie was butchered in post production and the result is a mess. It should have been longer, it should have been better edited, and it should have used less blatant music choices on a lot of the scenes. John Travolta deserved better, John Gotti’s legacy does as well ad most importantly you should all skip it because we all deserve a better movie than this.
Instead of seeing the new John Gotti biopic check out the 1996 HBO film also titled Gotti with an outstanding performance from Armand Assante as the Dapper Don and great supporting performances from Anthony Quinn, William Forsythe and Vincent Pastore. A lot of future Sopranos actors make an appearance in what has remained one of the best HBO films ever made.