Updated: Feb 6, 2020
Gotti is a biopic about notorious crime boss John Gotti that has absolutely no idea who it thinks he was or what it is trying to say. The film is tremendously confusing. People and events are not clearly introduced, making motives hard to understand. There is no real plot to speak of, which would be okay if the movie were an examination of Gotti’s psyche or organized crime or anything at all. But it is not. I am baffled by the thinking behind this production.
The first mistake (of many, many mistakes) this film makes is the way it presents John Gotti. Am I supposed to see him as a monster or as an honorable man in an illegal line of work? If it is the latter (which I am pretty sure it is), the filmmakers did a really poor job of making him sympathetic. At the very least, I guess they expect viewers to respect his family values and strict adherence to his own code. However, the character is so terribly written that the only reason I could see for any of his actions was self-preservation. He comes off as a sociopath who does not know what effect he has on his family (though neither does Gotti). He is never given any depth, so the moments intended to show his softer, caring side are completely unbelievable.
Gotti (98 minutes, not including the end credits) skips around through its protagonist’s life as a Mafioso. The story begins in 1973 and hops from incident to incident with little direct connection between them. Though it is mostly told in chronological order, it is incredibly difficult to follow. Even seemingly important happenings become insignificant because they lack context. The movie has no time for them anyway as it quickly hurries to the next scene of Gotti swearing while attempting to be intimidating.
The star is none other than John Travolta. What attracted him to this I have no clue (he also executive produced). His performance is a mess of clichés in search of a character. If he was trying to find a good man inside John Gotti, he failed. The movie is so bad at establishing what kind of man he was that only the outline of his life is understandable. John Travolta has proven his skills as an actor over the years (as recently as 2016’s People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story). But there was nothing anyone could have done with this disaster.
As an illustration of Gotti’s complete absence of focus, director Kevin Connolly (best known as E on HBO’s Entourage) cuts to real news clips of New Yorkers praising Gotti and accusing the government of unfairly persecuting him. He does this more than once yet on no occasion is it made clear why citizens would be defending him. What did he do for the city that captured these people’s affection? That sounds fascinating to me, but it is never elaborated on. Left alone, it makes it seem like the filmmakers wanted Gotti to look like a folk hero; however, nothing else in the movie supports that idea.
The screenplay was co-written by Lem Dobbs and Leo Rossi. Rossi is also an actor who is a veteran of many mafia films (he shows up in this one as Bobby Boriello). Dobbs has worked on screenplays for some really good films like Dark City, The Limey and The Score. Between these two, Connelly, Travolta and costars Stacy Keach, Pruitt Taylor Vince and Kelly Preston, these are professionals who have been working for years. They know what they are doing. But their latest product looks like it was put together by people who have never seen a movie before. If you want to see what a poorly made film looks like, here is a great example.
¼ out of 5
John Travolta as John Gotti Sr.
Spencer Lofranco as John Gotti Jr.
Stacy Keach as Neil Dellacroce
Pruitt Taylor Vince as Angelo Ruggiero
Kelly Preston as Victoria Gotti
Directed by Kevin Connolly
Screenplay by Lem Dobbs and Leo Rossi