John Travolta Has the Dapper Look, but ‘Gotti’ Is a Mess
Posted June 15, 2018 2:39 p.m. EDT
That the long-gestating crime drama “Gotti” is a dismal mess comes as no surprise. What does shock is just how multifaceted a dismal mess it is.
Let’s start at the beginning when the title character, based on the real-life New York mobster who died in 2002, stands before the East River. Played by John Travolta, this is John Gotti ostensibly at his dapper peak. Travolta’s charismatic, high-voltage smile is wide, and he approximates the real-life Gotti’s speech credibly. So far, so good. Then you hear the words coming out of his mouth. Mobsters such as himself end up “dead or in jail,” according to his little speech. “I did both.”
Good grief. The conceit of Gotti speaking to the audience from beyond the grave might have been more effective had he been given dialogue that didn’t make him sound like an idiot.
There does exist the possibility that John Gotti was an idiot. But because the movie, written by Lem Dobbs and Leo Rossi (an actor who appears in the film while also serving as one of approximately 700 credited producers), never attains a point of view on the character, one can’t really say.
The movie, directed by actor Kevin Connolly, does not recover from the opening outburst. Its unstuck-in-time structure is, one supposes, meant to be anchored by a scene threaded through the narrative in which Gotti’s eldest son, John A. Gotti, visits his ailing father in prison.
But “Gotti” mostly incoherently bounces around the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, recounting “highlights” of his criminal exploits, including the assassination of mob boss Paul Castellano in 1985. One suspects that jumbled structure was used because a linear account of Gotti’s criminal career would reveal little beyond banal tawdriness.
Far from being any kind of Machiavellian mastermind, the Gotti here is driven by mere resentment. In a nightclub, conferring with an underboss, he points out various thugs and notes his dislike and distrust of them all. This Gotti is nothing more nor less than petty, but again, the movie declines to put that trait in the service of any point.
For many scenes, it seems that Connolly asked himself, “What would Martin Scorsese do?” All his answers are wrong. His staging of shots is not even rudimentary. And when he tries for a slightly sophisticated effect, he whiffs. There’s a shallow-focus view of Gotti and his crew walking down the street near their social club. The background is impressionistically out of focus as intended, while the characters walking toward the camera are ... well, they’re out of focus, too. Just less out of focus than the background.
The use of period pop music on the soundtrack here is probably influenced by Scorsese’s “Goodfellas.” Except the choices are on-the-nose dull or out-and-out hilarious. The killing of Castellano, which occurred in December, is accompanied by Elvis Presley’s “Silent Night.” Connolly even throws in Isaac Hayes’ “Theme From ‘Shaft.'” You don’t put the “Theme From ‘Shaft'” in a movie that is not “Shaft.” Come on.
Rated R for language, violence, abuse of Isaac Hayes.
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes.