“Piranhas” burns its astounding technical side on the poor narrative, because no matter how meticulously and zealously Claudio Giovannesi crafts his film, it falls flat with its overly simplistic point of view.
Piranhas (2019) Incorporates A Known Pattern
The youth in mob-reigned Naples faces poverty and life revolving around drugs and violence. In the God-forgotten city lives a clique of teenagers, led by charismatic Nicola (Francesco di Napoli). Operating on a footsoldier level, the boys clash with rivalring gang in a classic turf war, dreaming of climbing up the ladder.
The rise-to-power scheme, that “Piranhas” incorporates, comes to life when Nicola and his pack rob a jewellery store within the territory of an influential mobster. The devil-may-care attitude pays off quickly, and Nicola’s deeds are recognized by “the management”. And when an unexpected turn of events leaves the throne in Naples without a king of crime, the real guerilla warfare begins.
That’s where Nicola seizes his opportunity to gain a grounded position among the city’s influential people. However, he’s inexperienced, and the highly impetuous behavior and on-the-spot made decisions throw him over the bridge just as quick as he climbed it.
Nihil Novi In The Dark World
It would seem that the reason of “Piranhas’” existence is the need to cast light on how juvenile crime rises to prominence.
While it’s nothing revelatory, this young-gone-bad scheme worked in a plethora of films before. Films like “City of God” painted a morbid picture of armed youth in most visceral colors. And in “Piranhas” too, the crime world’s foundations are – at some point – laid on the wobbly shoulders of the youth, who in the case of Naples, are half-wit brutes in sweatsuits.
But is it enough to build an engaging story?
Giovannesi, who worked on “Gomorra” as a screenwriter, has the gift of stripping down such narrative to its bare form. Given his previous works, this topic painted a perfect opportunity for a dense, bone-deep narrative.
But while “Piranhas” delves deep into the realism of the tides and flows of Naples’ mob scene, Giovannesi loses the simultaneous capability of telling a riveting rise-to-power story.
Part of the problem lies in the number of shortcuts he takes. First and foremost, the director refuses to include a single rationally-thinking police officer in the film. If any cop appears, it happens only as a chance to mock the uniform. One scene captures a couple of policemen as they’re robbed of their gusn, while the only moment when the law actually plays its part is a necessary narrative-turning point for Giovannesi – without it, the whole plot wouldn’t make sense at all.
Moreover, Giovannesi does not conjure any likeable character.
The youth gang isn’t well-designed either, as if made from paper. The foul-mouthed kids all serve as a background for their problematic, self-appointed leader. Nicola, the backbone of the narrative, simply falls short as a character too. He’s neither complex nor charismatic enough to justify things happening around him as he pleases, and even Francesco di Napoli’s charming baby face can’t hide the actor’s limited skills.
Finally, Giovannesi lacks consistency too.
While certain elements, set designs and dialogues are dipped in the mob sauce, the fact that police is completely non-existing here makes literally no sense. Without that key player in the turf war, Giovannesi tells a fairy tale where we require drama the most. Many of Nicola’s actions feel improbable and simply fake as well, as if Giovannesi’s script bats an eye on these more uncomfortable aspects. Eventually, “Piranhas” don’t bite, and while they swim in a red-colored sea, they remain unsharpened and closer to “Bugsy Malone” than “Goodfellas”.
Dir. Claudio Giovannesi
Hate Grade: 6/10
Overall Judgment: Unrealistic though directed in a semi-documentary style, this Italian rise-to-power story lacks a solid protagonist and more meat to chew on.