A Film by Robert Harmon
“We Survive by our rules, you don’t break them, you don’t roll, you don’t rat”
An age old Mafia concept which had been instilled in John Gotti by his superiors in his younger days and one he lived by during his tenure as Boss of the most famous family in Mafia history - the Gambino crew.
Today John Gotti is a resident at Marion Federal Penitentiary and will remain so until the day he dies* due to his obligation to those rules and the failure of those around him, - those who he loved and trusted - to have a similar moral agenda.
One always has to be a little wary of a Made-for-TV HBO special, but the cast list of this true to life drama reads like a who’s who of the gangster genre. Frank Vincent (of Goodfella’s and Casino fame) leads the way along with Dominic Chinese (The Godfather Pt II), Tony Siricio (Goodfella’s) and Vincent Pastore, who all went on to land major roles in the Cult TV Show ‘The Sopranos’.
The role of Gotti himself is played expertly by the little known Armand Assante whose career has spanned some 79 films. It should be noted that Assante bears more than a small resemblance to Sylvester Stallone, but due to Assante’s screen presence and characterisation skills, unfortunately for Sly that’s where the similarities end.
It is somewhat startling that Gotti remains his star turn.
The film tells the story of arguably the most well known gangster in the history of the Mafia, John Gotti and chronicles his meteoric rise from a Soldier who rebelled against the sacred rules, to family Boss, where he tries his best to enforce those same rules. In doing so Gotti becomes perhaps the most unlikely people’s champion in American history By beating the government time and time again Gotti fought a war for the little people and his flamboyant style led them to see him as a hero and celebrity status flourished.
With the notorious Sammy “The Bull” Gravano (William Forsythe) at his side “The Dapper Don” takes on an oppressive boss and emerges victorious, spreading the wealth and his own popularity in turn. But as he found out to his cost, “going public” is not always good news.
But as Sammy’s greed begins to take a hold on the Gambino crew, and tapes from the FBI - who as usual in the organised crime genre are portrayed as the despicable bad guys - whose vendetta against Gotti finally leads to them nailing both he and Gravano and a bitter conflict develops between the two.
Gravano’s eventual “I talk I walk” deal with the FBI condemns the ‘celebrity mobster’ to life imprisonment as his former ‘Underboss’ retreats into the witness protection programme.
Forsythe’s (The Rock) transformation from brother-like ally to despicable Rat is almost seamless and he deserves as much acclaim as Assante for a fine performance.
Although John Gotti is without a doubt the moral centre of the picture there is an essence of you reap what you sow in the fact that the rules he disregarded as a youngster come back to haunt him in later life.
The story of John Gotti and Sammy ‘The Bull’ has been told before and will be told again, but it is doubtful whether any incarnation in the past or the future could be as emotional and detailed as this version of the most notorious story in the history of the mafia. From the tragic death of his young son, to the ecstatic celebrations which accompany his appointment as family boss “Gotti” is a wonderful roller coaster ride of loyalty and betrayal and the ups and downs of the ultimate peoples champion; a man who proved the if you want it enough and treat people the right way, the American dream is alive and well.
Mafia fans will love it, others will arrive on high horses and drone on about Violent criminals being portrayed as hero’s but as the man himself says from his prison cell “5 or 10 years from now they’re gonna miss John Gotti”.
John Gotti died in prison of throat cancer on June 10, 2002. — Ed.