Suburra ★★★★

The Letterboxd Era Catch-Up Project

Stefano Sollima's name has been thrust into the spotlight over the last few months after it was announced that he would be helming the unlikely sequel to Sicario.

I say unlikely because it's not the kind of film that is normally granted a sequel, and that was a development I certainly wasn't expecting. As much as I was initially delighted by the news, I'm sure I wasn't the only one who also immediately put the brakes on getting too excited when it was announced that Denis Villeneuve wouldn't be directing Soldado because he's busy making some science fiction film or something.

Immediate concerns about it being a quick cash-in come to mind, but as much as the original was a financial success, it wasn't a box office buster by any means. And the return of Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro reinvigorated my interest in the project. The only concern I had thereafter was about the chosen director, mainly because I hadn't seen any of his work to date.

Anyone with similar concerns who are in desperate need of having them allaying would be well advised to watch Suburra then. I'm not saying one very good crime drama necessarily means he will nail Soldado, but I'm considerably more confident that it will turn out to be very good indeed after watching this. Perhaps the main reason why that is is because this isn't usually the type of crime film I go for all that much, yet it still won me over convincingly anyway.

I like crime films to be quite self-contained. I don't usually like sprawling plots in this genre so much because I get frustrated, more often than not, that the film isn't spending as much time on the plot points I think are most interesting and important. Suburra really is quite sprawling in terms of the amount of people involved and the separate comparatively small incidents and situations that all come together to form a compelling whole.

The difference here is that they are all linked to a centre either directly or indirectly. There are no hanging parts here that serve no central purpose. Everyone here has a part to play to a lesser or greater extent, and Sollima does not rush things at all. He starts things at a very slow pace (save for possibly the most savage looking hit-and-run in cinema history), puts all the characters in their place, and then slowly but surely slots them all together towards the film's climax.

While an argument could be made that the last act of Suburra gives way to all too much in the way of unexpected murders, the unpredictability of the latter stages was still fascinating to watch. Throughout, the various factions in this film are portrayed as seeing themselves as bigger than they actually are when, in actual fact, they are very small fry and not nearly as professional or untouchable as they would like to think they are.

Even the one man in this film who appears to be untouchable because of who he represents ("The Families") is ultimately put away by a rogue element from one of the factions he fails to deal with completely. As small as all these groups may be, there are so many of them all competing for their own slice of the pie that even the Mafia's finest can't keep a full track of them all, leading to chaos.

It's probably meant as a metaphor for Italy's rocky political foundation but if it's not then it doesn't need to be anyway as that's explored directly in this film anyway. It's slow paced aside from a superb shopping mall shootout and reluctant to break into anything resembling a sprint, but Suburra is a lot more than a calling card ahead of a more high profile endeavour. And it hardly harms a film in my eyes when it's soundtracked by M83.

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