Director: Kevin Connolly
Writers: Leo Rossi, Lem Dobbs
Starring: John Travolta, Spencer Rocco Lofranco, Kelly Preston, Pruitt Taylor Vince, William DeMeo
Kevin Connolly's New York-set crime biopic falls far short of a Scorsese-esque mob epic, but nor does it warrant the widespread panning it received following (and preceding) its release in 2018. It may fail to reach the heights of the likes of American Gangster (2007) or Goodfellas (1990) but within the gangster sub-genre it is happily in the middle of the pack. Gotti attempts to chronicle the rise and fall of American mobster John Gotti, the man who eventually became head of the Gambino crime family in the 70s and 80s, and who was referred to as 'The Real Godfather'.
'Attempts' being the operative word. From the outset this is a troublesome film to follow. After a brief fourth-wall breaking introduction from Travolta which does little to inspire any faith in what is to come, we begin in 1999, as Gotti meets with his eldest son while in prison. It soon becomes clear that Gotti is unable to sit still for more than a few minutes, as the film flits from one decade to another with little care, while doing little to provide any significant orientation for the viewer. Despite spanning more than three decades, it can be difficult to decipher from context when each scene is taking place, resulting in the film having a narrative which is so disjointed it borders on being incomprehensible.
The film is carried by Travolta, and with all of the responsibility on his shoulders it is perhaps unsurprising that he experiences a few stumbles. Still riding the wave of charisma cultivated more than 30 years ago he gives an undeniably committed performance as the film's titular character John Gotti. Complete with a thick (sometimes too thick) New York accent and a stony countenance, Travolta throws himself into the role and creates a compelling character with enough magnetism to somewhat distract from the almost hilariously messy plot-line. Some of the dialogue does him a complete disservice, with him having to utter some desperately cringeworthy lines both during the film's normal flow and during the unevenly placed voiceover he sporadically provides. Otherwise, he is given a simplistic but natural script which doesn't possess any real flair but is certainly absorbing enough to maintain a fix on your attention.
Few other characters in the film are provided with as much attention as Gotti, the main exception being Travolta's on-screen son played by Spencer Lofranco. He provides a solid performance which is unfortunately stunted and only allowed any room to grow during the film's final half hour, which is far too late.
Anyone else involved in the film is lucky to be given a name, let a worthwhile contribution to the plot - even Gotti's wife is given an amount of screen time which must run in the single digits. An abundance of extras were obviously available during filming, with a flurry of characters being involved so briefly in so many different aspects of the plot that it is a frustratingly difficult task trying to keep up with them - only adding the to film's chaotic portrayal of this story.
For a film about a crime boss, very little involvement in illegal activity is shown, aside from the murders necessary for retaining his grip on power. Instead, Gotti focuses far more on the relationships within Gotti's family, his criminal organisation, and how he reconciles difficulties within each. Any exploration of these, however, is lacking in any depth, with even the film's central relationship - that being the one between Gotti and his son - being starved of any real weight or verve. The end result is that Gotti neither provides a shocking depiction of the extent of organised crime across America in the late 20th century, nor does it offer a pensive character study of one of its biggest proponents.
Ultimately stuck in this limbo, Gotti is a film with little to say, but says what it can in a way which is almost indecipherable. Travolta's commitment to his role is perhaps underserved by the film within which it sits, and may have made more of an impact in a more well-made vehicle.
In one line: Desperately difficult to follow and with only one meaningful performance, this crime biopic is unlikely to make a lasting impact within a sub-genre which can boast some of cinema's greatest entries.