Piranhas is at once a thoroughly conventional gangster movie and a fresh take on the genre. If you’ve seen a mob flick made since The Public Enemy you can guess most of the plot, but director Claudio Giovannesi and his young cast bring such a lively energy to things that you can feel like you’re discovering this story for the first time.
The youth of Piranhas’ characters is the key here. The Bugsy Malone-aged cast are uniformly great, convincing as both dopey teenagers and violent criminals. The overlap between the two drives many of the film’s best moments, as when Nicola (Francesco di Napoli) and Agostino (Pasquale Marotta) are figuring out how to shoot: Nicola tries first and nothing happens; Agostino tells him to take the safety off; Nicola does and the gun immediately goes off by accident. It’s a funny beat, but the combination of ineptitude and deadly force fuels a sense of dread that creeps through the rest of the movie.
There’s an appealing naturalism in Piranhas’ approach to the gangster story. None of the kids “always wanted to be a gangster,” but the choice makes sense when gangsters are the only people getting ahead. Conflict emerges from shortsighted power-grabs and petty revenge. Nobody in this movie is a criminal mastermind. Scenes following the youth of Naples around the city’s gorgeous narrow streets on whining scooters could come straight from a travel documentary, up until someone lets loose with an AK-47.
The heavier subject matter of Piranhas is balanced by the light-footedness of its plot, which sees Coenesque bumbling criminals struggling to cling onto power amid their rapidly-spiralling misfortunes. The result is a stripped-down mob thriller that feels fresh but could have been made in any era – give or take some 21st-century fashion choices.
CAST: Francesco di Napoli, Viviana Aprea, Alfredo Turitto, Pasquale Marotta
DIRECTOR: Claudio Giovannesi
WRITERS: Roberto Saviano, Claudio Giovannesi, Maurizio Braucci
SYNOPSIS: A gang of heavily-armed teenage boys take over the streets of Naples, amassing power, money and enemies in the process.