I remember when learning about this movie’s release. I was in the lunch hall at grad school and found an Honest Trailer about it and figured I wasn’t missing anything. And in many ways, it’s disappointing to look at it. Back in high school, I was a Mob aficionado; I’d watch documentaries about the Mob and loved movies like The Godfather and Goodfellas, and I remember when this movie was announced. Let’s see if it was worth the wait.
John Travolta plays John Gotti, the former boss of the Gambino Crime Family. The movie maps Gotti climbing through the ranks and highlights his loyalty to mentor Neil Dellacroce (Stacy Keach), his trouble with colleague Angelo Ruggiero (Pruitt Taylor Vince), the plan to take out boss Paul Castellano and his tenure as boss until his arrest and betrayal from underboss Sammy “the Bull” Gravano (William DeMeo). Cut between that is Gotti talking to his son (Spencer Lofranco) as the junior John Gotti contemplates a plea deal.
In my experience, the cast can do wonders to uplift a movie no matter how bad it may be. But the cast has more misses than hits. John Travolta really brings Gotti to the big screen, playing the mob boss as an ambitious gangster with a bold personality. And the chemistry he has with Kelly Preston and Spencer Lofranco is natural, with him caring for his family as much as he does with his family. But the movie is crammed with too many other characters that feel interesting and you want to see more from; like Vincent Gigante, the Genovese family boss who feigned insanity to avoid the eyes of the Feds. Or Sammy “The Bull,” Gotti’s underboss and his inevitable Judas. We get small scenes with the two together, but it doesn’t feel like they have too much chemistry.
The story is a weird cluster of condensed events and inconsistent framing. It opens with Gotti breaking the fourth wall to tell the story and isn’t present again until the end. But then you have the scenes with Gotti talking to his son and the flashbacks feel like they’re part of the conversation. Both of these stories work in their own way; the first gives it a feel of the fourth wall breaks seen in Deadpool or Vice. The conversation simplifies the plot to a man reflecting on his life while helping his son at a crossroads. If the movie just picked one and stuck with it, then it would feel more coherent.
As a critic and as someone knowledgeable about the mob, I can say as an absolute fact that the story of John Gotti has potential. He’s the “Teflon Don” who gunned down the boss to get to the top, evaded federal charges and was betrayed by his righthand man. But the storytelling in this film tries to balance too many different framing devices and crams so many things in with not enough time to flesh them out. A far cry from Martin Scorsese, this feels like something director Kevin Connolly would have witnessed playing Eric on Entourage.