Marco Risi’s long-in-gestation “Fortapasc” strikingly re-creates the last four months in the life of Giancarlo Siani, a young journalist whacked by the Neapolitan mob in 1985 for digging too deeply into their alliances. Though any Camorra movie will now inevitably be compared with Matteo Garrone’s very different “Gomorrah,” Risi has crafted his personal best with this hard-hitting take on the murder of idealism. Title (pronounced “Fort-apash” in dialect) references John Ford’s classic western, “Fort Apache,” and the lawlessness of Mafia-ruled Naples, here brought to Scorsese-like life. Critical reception has outpaced public interest, though Euro arthouses and ancillary should respond.
Siani (Libero De Rienzo, perfectly cast) is an idealistic adjunct reporter attached to the Neapolitan suburb of Torre Annunziata. His dream is to become a fully accredited journalist, but editor Sasa (Ernesto Mahieux) isn’t interested in investigative stories.
When Siani stumbles on a pow-wow between local kingpin Valentino Gionta (Massimiliano Gallo) and big boss Carmine Alfieri (Gigio Morra), he seizes the chance to write a real expose. With the enthusiasm and courage of youth, Siani tries to trace Gionta’s connections, from fellow Camorristas up to corrupt politicians and magistrates.
In the course of his investigation, Siani chronicles the open warfare between rival factions. He gains recognition from the “real” journalists he so longs to join, but also arouses the deadly anger of the mob.
Risi and fellow scripters Jim Carrington and Andrea Purgatori avoid creating a simple issues-based film, fleshing out Siani’s professional and ethical drive with scenes of a more personal nature, especially involving his g.f., Daniela (Valentina Lodovini). While these side elements project Siani as a sympathetic regular Joe, rather than merely an anti-mob crusader, they occasionally feel unnecessary, as in Daniela’s clumsy jealousy over a flirtatious cellist’s glances.
The reference to “Fort Apache” first comes from Torre Annunziata’s corrupt Mayor Cassano (Ennio Fantastichini), as he denies the lawlessness that’s patently obvious. Risi doesn’t over-emphasize the parallels — there’s no sense of the blind, rule-bound hubris at the core of Ford’s classic — but when Gionta and his cronies ride into town on their motorcycles like something out of the Wild West, the film’s cinematic genealogy is clear.
While not featuring any bravura camerawork a la Scorsese, “Fortapasc” has plenty of cheap Camorra bling and swagger, which elicit knowing chuckles that are eventually silenced by sadistic rub-outs. At times, however, the pic feels overly scripted: When Siani talks to high school students, it’s too obvious he’s really trying to educate the viewer.
The film captures the run-down spaces around Naples, with their cheap glitz and heat-baked rubble. Risi’s use of a cavern-like car park is perfect: Though not uncommon in the area, the space acts as a kind of Hades, a dangerous, primitive world lying just under the heart of the city.
Lenser Marco Onorato, also d.p. on “Gomorrah,” here uses a richer palette, reflecting a more intimate story. Several cast members here also appeared in Garrone’s film. Several cast members, apparently straight out of central casting, are also shared with the same film.