Go back to your childhood for a few moments. Were you a girl or boy who did exactly what people expected you to do or were you a rebel fighting against the rules and the people? Well, that later became the fascinating topic for Roberto Saviano and his book “Gomorrah”. Saviano reported about young people being attracted by Italian organized crime, the Camorra crime syndicate, and the way the ruthless gangsters became a role model for many civilians.
While Saviano received international acclaim for this work, he also received multiple death threats. The result? Living under police protection ever since and seeing his work coming to life thanks to director Claudio Giovannesi (“Fiore”, “Alì Blue Eyes”). However, Giovannesi’s “Piranhas” (original title: “La paranza dei bambini”) doesn’t do the book, the topics and its writer a lot of justice.
We get to meet a bunch of friends, living in Sanità (Naples). While they seem to live a normal life, it becomes clear early on in this movie that that’s not the case. They’re surrounded by mobs, violence, guns and distortion. This hits Nicola (Francesca Di Napoli) home very hard as his mum, who runs a dry-cleaning business, has to endure gangsters demanding money for protection.
This world has an impact on the lifestyle, mindset and dream of Nicola as he wants to become a gangster himself. Together with his gang of friends, he robs a jewellery store, and from there on, the movie speeds up its pace. Boys becoming men, swapping fun parties for robberies and threatening people instead of loving them. When the heavy guns are being handed over to them, hell breaks loose…
It probably sounds like an intriguing story which it’s indeed the case. By playing it right, “Piranhas” could have been a success but when not handling the topic in the right way, it could have become over the top. Well, in “Piranhas”, we see both of those things.
During some moments, “Piranhas” feels very authentic. Not only because of Giovannesi’s real-life story that’s been treated relatively well but also Saviano his love for the topics. The story becomes very believable because of different reasons.
This movie is filmed from the point of the view of the young actors and that puts you right in the heart of the action. For this movie, Giovannesi and his casting director Chiara Polizzi chose non-professional actors. This doesn’t only add an element of innocence and boys just starting out in the world but also the determination to make it in the industry, no matter how hard to have to fight for it.
There’s also a lot of symbolism in this film and the most wonderful example is right at the beginning. Young boys tearing down a Christmas tree that’s filled with golden and wonderful decorations. Gone is Christmas, gone are the shinning ornaments and gone is childhood. The Christmas lights go out and darkness rules the lives of young boys.
It’s a shame that those strong moments are being dominated by more uninteresting and dreary ones. How many scenes do you need that involves children shooting and stealing to prove that this movie is about young men becoming mobsters? A few are certainly enough but when the movie consists almost entirely out of those scenes, you wish to see something different. The turbulent and unstable lifestyle of the kids makes from this movie a chaotic one itself.
Giovannesi wanted to turn the novel into the next “Goodfellas” or “Public Enemy” but then with upcoming gangsters instead of hard-core ones. Sadly, “Piranhas” isn’t a thrilling as should have and could have been. There are flashes of greatness and power but the moments of uninteresting and monotonous vibe predominate.