Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"Frequently dark, often stunning, and only morally murky."

Suburra is riddled with portent - a countdown to apocalypse features heavily - but the nature of that revelatory conclusion is complicated. This is a city in chaos - there will be a deluge, but these are antediluvian systems, corrupt institutions, flawed leaders. It is November 5th, 2011. Things are going to change.

Heavily influenced by a variety of crime media, from the Michael Mann neo-noir stylings to the Scandi-crime pacing, particularly the steady accretion of soon-to-be intersecting plot elements, and a guy in a brown trenchcoat who's called the Samurai. Not all of those influences are subtly worn.

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There are some strong points - a drug-fueled vision of the future is genuinely beautiful, and the performances all demonstrate real capability. There are some gorgeous locations, and acres of grime in the tapestry of vice that has assembled around a massive property deal. There are procurers of drugs and underage girls, party organiser blackmailers, deep debts to organised crime, hasty attempts to fix the consequences of excess, and that's just one relationship. Suburra ladles sources of conflict with a generous hand, and atop and amidst it all is Filippo Malgradi - a member of parliament, a man with too many connections, habits, played by Pierfrancesco Favino with a pretty sizeable commitment.

Suburra is an odd-duck, a cinematic release for a feature-length pilot for a Netflix series. It does succeed as a (lengthy) teaser for said, but doesn't stand alone - based on a novel it avoids the complications of abridging pages of text into mere minutes of screen, but it represents a sizeable down-payment on a large investment of time. It's also clearly got some money behind it, the production values are good, music is well used, but amortised over a TV series and with the freedom of distribution afforded by being aimed at digital...

Eye For Film saw it at 2016's Glasgow Film Festival, and while your reviewer took pages of notes (it's comfortably over the two-hour mark) the bulk of those were focused on tone, on feel - it's frequently dark, often stunning, and only morally murky. It's also an indicator of an age to come, perhaps - it's not uncommon for TV shows to be commissioned in the vein of films that have preceded them, heck, M*A*S*H set a weird precedent some 40 years ago and managed to last longer than the war it was set in, and if my TiVo is to be believed there's apparently a Rush Hour show which a robot that lives in my house thinks I ought to watch.

That algorithm isn't, I suspect, as good as the one that Netflix have spent so much developing, but they've branched from programs to programmes and Suburra is part of that. It shares some roots with Sky Italia's Gomorra which is similarly coming to multi-platform UK households soon, but that's not too much of a surprise - it's got dozens of strands in its weave, and in its unravelling it does manage a rich tapestry. That its origins are in footage that tends to the square and sold by the pound is notable, but less important than its quality - it's a powerful couple of hours, and will leave many wanting more. Conveniently, that's the whole point.

Reviewed on: 23 Jun 2016
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A careless politician struggles to stay out of the grip of a ruthless crime lord who knows a little too much about him for comfort.
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Director: Stefano Sollima

Writer: Sandro Petraglia, Stefano Rulli, Giancarlo De Cataldo, Carlo Bonini

Starring: Pierfrancesco Favino, Elio Germano, Claudio Amendola

Year: 2015

Runtime: 130 minutes

Country: Italy, France


Glasgow 2016

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