Gotti (1996)
HBO Home Video
Cast: Anthony Quinn, Armand Assante, Frank Vincent, Scott Cohen, Vinny Pastore, William Forsythe
Extras: Cast and Crew Biographies

For some reason, Mafia movies have a magnetic attraction on audiences around the world. But exactly where does this attraction come from? Is it the fact that this organized mob seems to live in a world of its own, governed by their own rules and laws? Is it the chuckle we get out of their hypocritical sense of "honor," life and violence? Or is it simply the excitement of watching these sociopaths living off the edge of legality and morality? Whatever the attraction may be, HBO Home Video is bringing a great new addition to the Mafia film genre to DVD in the form of the television production "Gotti," which follows the real-life story of one of the Mafia’s most glamorous Godfather, John Gotti.

As the protege of the powerful Neil Delacroce (Anthony Quinn), John Gotti (Armand Assante) is destined to make it to the top of the Mafia. Slick and self-assured, Gotti is a polished mobster who knows what he wants, and how to get there. He doesn’t leave room for mistakes or disobedience and much to the dismay of the upper ranks of the Gambino family, John Gotti is also very determined in his actions – regardless of the Mafia code. When Paul Castellano (Richard Scott Sarafian) becomes the new Don, the head of the family – a position that should have been his mentor Neil’s – Gotti quickly becomes that target of much finger-pointing. But soon, Gotti finds out that Castellano is gradually ruining the Mafia, giving away the power that generations before him had bled and died for to accumulate. Castellano is enriching himself and the family’s expense and soon he becomes Gotti’s target. Without scruple, ignoring the age-old Mob rules, Gotti kills the Don and becomes the next Godfather of the family.

But the law is not sleeping either. While Gotti has been involved in his family feuds, the FBI was constantly trying to build a case to bring him down, but every time they take Gotti to court, he wins the battle and comes out a shining celebrity, beloved by the masses. But complacency brings down the mobster, as the FBI keeps trying and one day finally obtain the evidence to nail Gotti… a secretly recorded audio tape in which he confesses a number of hits he had ordered.

Dark and stylish, "Gotti" is a fascinating movie to watch and much of its appeal has to be directly attributed to Armand Assante’s portrayal of John Gotti. Going through mood changes faster than a strike of lightning, he plays Gotti unpredictably and dangerous. Charming and smooth on the outside, the viewer gets to witness Gotti’s ruthlessness early on in the film and soon the character is a silk-dressed menace without the need to even stain his own hands.

Even the thought of going to prison shows his way to adapt to the new situation, and that the strong arm of the law can’t even stop this powerful man from doing business as usual. Superior and commanding, Assante carries this movie with an ease that is simply staggering. Especially in the smallest and most subtle moments, Assante creates an aura for the character that screams confidence and brilliance. With a deluded sense of grandeur, an innate hostility towards common morality, and an omnipresence of power that seems to transcend the law, his play makes you forget instantly that you are watching a film and you see John Gotti as a real character. Supported by an outstanding cast, we get to take a glimpse at the Mafia that feels entirely authentic, despite the fact that every Mafia movie inevitably serves up an array of stereotypes. The film also features a great script that is well paced and under Robert Harmon’s direction, the film gradually builds towards its inevitability.

HBO Home Video presents "Gotti" in its original <$PS,full frame> aspect ratio on this DVD. The image is generally clean and free of defects or blemishes, but occasionally grain is evident in the transfer. Colors are generally neutral and well rendered, although a slight over-saturation of red is evident in selected scenes, giving fleshtones a pink look. The image noticeably lacks shadow definition. In darker parts of the image, the detail is quickly showing signs of dot crawl and pixel break-up, giving shadows a washed out quality. Highlights on the other hand are very well defined and show a good level of detail, although the entire transfer has a rather soft look. Blacks are deep and solid in the transfer, giving the image depth. The compression shows slight signs of <$pixelation,pixelation> throughout, especially in areas of unfocussed textures and backgrounds where bandwidth limitations create a visible loss of image detail. Maybe the use of a <$RSDL,dual-layer> disc would have helped to avoid these artifacts by giving the DVD encoder more headroom to operate with.

Three separate language tracks are part of the disc. An English <$DS,Dolby Surround> track and stereo tracks in French and Spanish. I was quite pleasantly surprised by the Dolby Surround track, as it creates an active sound field that makes good use of the surround channel. The audio presentation has a good frequency response and never sounds overly harsh or limited. Surrounds are used very effectively and frequently to create moments of action, as well as subtle and somber moments of quiescence. Dialogues are very well-integrated and always understandable. Their volume is very balanced and the lines are never drowned out by the music or the sound effects.

The disc also contains subtitles in English, French and Spanish, which came in quite handy, given the heavy accents you can find in the film.

"Gotti" is a great entry in the Mafia movie genre. Not as poetic as "The Godfather" and not quite as snotty as "Goodfellas," the film manages to paint an image of the familia that is vivid and believable. The dark tone of the images, the haunting music and the staggering performances make "Gotti" a superb addition to any DVD library. Check it out, and see what the "Teflon Don" was all about. How he rose to the top of the ranks and how he ultimately fell through his own arrogance and complacency. This is must-see-TV or must-see-DVD in this case!