Critics versus audiences is a subplot kind of narrative that anyone on either side of the argument can become infatuated by, I am at fault for this as much as anyone else. It can become increasingly frustrating to see films that you find immensely powerful to go under the radar of most moviegoers as if they never actually happened. It can be just as difficult to see a movie that you and your friends love that critics trashed with their reviews, or to see a lack of genre films at the Oscars.
It’s a type of sociological discourse that all of us can seek our teeth into and share some kind of resonation with either side, but it’s never meant to be something that proves one is better than the other. Kevin Connolly’s (“E” from “Entourage”) “Gotti” is a film that struggles to grasp that concept. It’s a film centering around the life of the notorious mobster John Gotti (John Travolta), focusing on his family life, his most infamous moments as a criminal, and his indirect leadership of his community.
The screenplay, written by Lem Dobbs (“Dark City” & “Haywire”) and Leo Rossi (Budd from “Halloween II”), attempts to paint this picture of him being a people’s man brought down by a group of corrupt government officials. As if he’s someone like Billy the Kid or Robin Hood, but in fact, he’s a criminal using propaganda and a forceful hand to maintain face. He’s like a local dictator residing over his neighborhood’s who does occasional beneficiary things for the community as a part of PR. The film never treats him as a criminal, but rather an outlaw, a folk hero mobster.
The film seems to be confusing murder with avenging, to be fair most films don’t play up murder as something worth denouncing. Instead, its served up as something spectacular and worth watching. Nonetheless, “Gotti” received a zero percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes which has led to it's rising popularity for its strong negative response from critics. The screenplay I described above is, in part, at fault for that rating. It’s seemingly inconsequential with it's writing, meaning that none of its storytelling has any merit or emotion to its story. It’s a one hour and forty-five-minute sequence of cliche mobster moments, including poor joisy accents and the throwaway lines to make the film seem a lot cooler than it actually is.
Not to mention, “Gotti” breaks a golden rule of screenwriting in establishing who is telling the story we’re watching or are we observing these events as they happen. “Gotti” begins with John (John Travolta) seemingly speaking to us from beyond the grave, the point of view transfers between him and his son, and it ends with a multitude of news clips from that time. It’s shocking to see such a simple rule broken by professional screenwriters, but they are not the only one at fault for the lousy critical reception of “Gotti.”
Connolly and his cinematographer, Michael Barnett, provide a grim and shadowy look to the film. The lighting struggles to paint anything with visual prominence as if Connolly is trying to shield his movie from us through the obscurity of its poor lighting. The camera doesn’t do anything remarkable either, remaining still and relying on its star to provide the oomph of charisma that the film desperately needs, and Travolta doesn’t shy away from the challenge.
Though his accent drops in and out of his dialogue, Travolta does deliver more times than not throughout this film in good and bad ways. He provides those unintended laugh out loud moments that are so bad they’re funny, but he also delivers some of the films best moments, specifically a sequence of moments in which we watch this crime family deal with the loss of a child. It’s one of the few moments in the film that has some sense of passion residing in its scenery.
Travolta’s effort and one good sequence of filmmaking is not enough to craft a good movie though, the sheer lack of focus given to a film that feels as if it was made through a blender of events than actual proper filmmaking tools makes “Gotti” something worth forgettin’ about. The rest of cast surrounding Travolta is either overdoing the whole mob thing or not doing it enough, refusing to embrace the ridiculousness of it all to provide something worth watching. Not to mention the on-the-nose soundtrack played during the most cliche of moments ranging from artists such as Duran Duran, James Brown, Dean Martin, The Escape Club, and Pitbull. It's all just so ridiculous.
This film should not be used as a prime example in this ongoing argument of critic versus viewer, “Gotti” is feeding off our desire to feed into that narrative, attempting to cloud its shortcomings by manifesting discourse to camouflage its lack of quality, like a criminal pretending to be a folk hero. It may not be a good movie, but at least it remains consistent with its story in that way.