Reviewed by: Donald Munro

"The thing that makes Piranhas watchable is the performance of its star, Francesco Di Napoli." | Photo: Palomar 2018

Piranhas is set amongst the teenage street gangs of Naples. The young men and boys who make up these piranha gangs career around on mopeds committing acts of violence and petty crimes whilst indulging in low level drug dealing. The film charts a young gang leader's rise towards power as he cosies up to members of the Camorra. This is no epic like Scarface - it's about a kid who's a bit smarter than the others climbing the first rung of the ladder and becoming involved in organised crime.

The script for Piranhas was adapted by Claudio Giovannesi, Roberto Saviano and Maurizio Braucci from Saviano's novel La Paranza Dei Bambini. It should be the starting point for a strong film. Opening with the surprising theft of a huge Christmas tree from a shopping mall and the predictable bonfire is a good enough hook for the audience. With the right direction it could have provided the driving narrative for a fun gangster romp. The direction is, however, flat and downbeat. It never really speaks to the audience. The script has moments of tension and troughs of relaxation; with the correct pacing it could have bumped along like a fairground ride, but the tension is too short-lived and the relaxation too deep. If the script had focused more on characterisation, social commentary or the environment in which the characters live then the film could have worked well, but it doesn't have these elements: it's a fairly formulaic rags to riches gangster story.

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Maybe the flat direction is an attempt to avoid sensationalism and produce a more kitchen sink version of the story. If so, it is fighting against the script. As a starting point, piranha gangs are pure Italian tabloid fare. Any movie about them is going to be loaded with prejudices before the camera has started rolling. Keeping the lid of mundanity on the story is a mistake when it has fully automatic weapons, a Gialloesque assassination and so much money sloshing around. The reality of the situation is that street level dealing is a minimum wage job. The gang in the film is selling cannabis resin to students at the university at three grams for 20 euros. assuming they can make 12 sales an hour, and have to kick back three quarters to their supplier. Each gang member is making at most six euros an hour. They'd be better off flipping burgers.

The thing that makes Piranhas watchable is the performance of its star, Francesco Di Napoli. It is particularly impressive considering that he is an untrained actor. His understated performance as Nicola,the gang leader, combined with his bishounen looks are just about enough to hold an audience when the film is dragging.

Piranhas had the opportunity to be a fun ride but the script didn't have enough of anything else.

Reviewed on: 22 Jul 2020
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Criminal children seize power in a world without a future.
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Director: Claudio Giovannesi

Writer: Roberto Saviano, Claudio Giovannesi, Roberto Saviano, Maurizio Braucci

Starring: Francesco Di Napoli, Viviana Aprea, Ar Tem, Pasquale Marotta, Francesco Di Napoli, Viviana Aprea, Ar Tem, Pasquale Marotta

Year: 2019

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: Italy


BIFF 2019
London 2019

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