While there is rarely any enjoyment to be found in watching an awful film, there is something uniquely maddening about the experience of sitting through Entourage actor Kevin Connolly’s 2018 biopic Gotti. The film’s script is such a jumbled and incoherent mess that it’s tempting to think the screenwriters tossed their scene cards into the air and assembled them at random. The movie is riddled with gangster clichés that make it feel like a parody. But perhaps worst of all is the film’s inexplicable and immoral level of sympathy for its murderous titular character. This bizarre glorification of a mobster is ultimately what elevates Gotti from a misfire to a film that is arguably bad for humanity, and one that has received a devastatingly rotten score of 0 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
As we revisit this train wreck of a film, we’ll learn what makes the Connelly production so spectacularly unsuccessful and why all actors (or filmmakers in general) should avoid repeating its mistakes like the plague.
‘Gotti’ Includes Some Very Confusing Narration
The film opens with John Gotti (John Travolta) breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the camera/audience. At first, it seems as if Gotti’s subsequent narration throughout the film comes from this scene. In other words, we’re hearing a sort of inner monologue as Gotti speaks to his audience. But the narration may also sometimes come from a prison scene in which an elderly Gotti is speaking to his son. It’s unclear whether Gotti is narrating to the audience or to his son. In most films, the difference would be significant. Is Gotti giving us his unfiltered life story or is he trying to teach his son something important? This question is unanswerable, unfortunately, because the movie doesn’t really make sense.
‘Gotti’ Changes Time Periods Faster Than a Bullet
We then join Gotti in 1973 and witness him commit a murder. Then we somehow jump ahead to some unspecified future time period when an elderly Gotti is in federal prison. We soon cut to Gotti in a different federal prison, probably two or three decades earlier, but the year is again unspecified. Then we jump ahead to when Gotti has been released from the second federal prison. Then we go back in time to a third prison, and the film thankfully informs us the year is now 1975. Gotti sneaks out of prison to commit another murder. Then we’re back to the unspecified future time period with elderly Gotti in prison. Then we’re in 1979. We could go on like this forever (the film certainly does), but at this point, it should be noted that we’re only 14 minutes into Gotti, and we’ve already jumped around between eight different time periods.
Sadly, the film rarely slows down this relentless pace of jumping across the timeline of Gotti’s life. Throughout the first half of the film, it’s often unclear what exactly is happening in any given scene, as we don’t know which events have already taken place or are about to take place in the future (unless you’re adept at immediately memorizing what took place in each specific year of the 1970s). This results in the audience constantly trying to understand what exactly is going on as they are subjected to yet another scene in which stuff just kind of happens without much relevance to the overall story. Thankfully, a clearer narrative about Gotti taking over as boss of his crime family emerges about halfway through the film. But by this point, most viewers would have probably given up on the film entirely.
‘Gotti’ Features Uninteresting Supporting Characters
Gotti often introduces its audience to characters via quick chyrons. Most of the time, it’s not worth trying to remember these characters as we either rarely see them again, or they just fade into the background with no real influence on the story. In fact, other than Gotti, Neil Dellaroce (Stacy Keach), and Angelo Ruggiero (Pruitt Taylor Vince), most of the characters in this film are difficult to distinguish from one another. Gotti’s sons all look, sound, and act exactly the same. Gotti’s associates and henchmen also all look, sound, and act exactly the same. The characters are essentially interchangeable. This means that when one dies or betrays Gotti or otherwise does something ostensibly dramatic, we feel absolutely nothing. Most of Gotti’s characters are as unique as a stormtrooper in Star Wars.
What Is ‘Gotti’ About?
We know that this is a film about the life of John Gotti. But what kind of story is Gotti trying to tell? It sure would be nice to know. Most of the scenes are either about Gotti’s family or his criminal/business dealings. But unlike far superior gangster films like Goodfellas or Casino, we’re not dealing with a chronological rise-and-fall story arc. The nonlinear narrative is endlessly confusing and seems to be written by someone in desperate need of an editor. It’s kind of like a stream-of-consciousness narrative without intending to be.
Nonetheless, one theme (or at least topic) does emerge from the madness: Family. But what is the film trying to say about family? Gotti is concerned about his family. Some bad things happen to them, most of which are the direct result of his criminal lifestyle. But unlike The Sopranos, there’s nothing interesting going on here in terms of how Gotti thinks, or what he thinks, or how he interacts with his family. Instead, the film just displays a series of vignettes about Gotti’s wife and kids that are united by nothing other than their obvious subject. One wouldn’t expect a mobster to be an especially introspective person, but that’s why The Sopranos places Tony Soprano in a therapist’s office. And it’s why, one would expect, Gotti includes so many scenes of elderly Gotti speaking to his son. But, alas, no clear ideas ever emerge from these scenes. It’s almost as if Gotti has no point to make until it suddenly defends its protagonist in the closing scenes.
The Inexcusable Defense of John Gotti
As Gotti is dying in prison, he insists that staying alive even one extra day is his way of rebelling against the government. When he finally passes away, the score is operatic, as if we’re witnessing the final breaths of George Washington. We’re then treated to a series of archival news clips of people defending Gotti as “a great man” who kept neighborhoods “safe” by eliminating his competitors. The archival footage also shows flowers and murals left in tribute to Gotti. In the next scene, Gotti’s wife (Kelly Preston) stands up in court and berates a judge and the criminal justice system as a whole. “The government are the real gangsters,” she proclaims, echoing her deceased husband. A lawyer tells a jury about the many ways in which the government has allegedly wronged John Gotti’s son. When the son evades conviction, a few title cards explain how this was good, actually. Then the film ends.
This inexplicable ending, in which the Gottis are suddenly treated like anti-government crusaders, amounts to a full-on defense of the mafia. It’s impossible not to walk away from Gotti without the distinct impression that the filmmaker feels the same way about Gotti as the idiotic neighborhood guys defending his criminality. In the past, some have accused films like The Godfather of romanticizing the mob by treating it as grandiose and important. Perhaps there’s some validity in that accusation. But The Godfather never went out of its way to defend any of its characters. In Scorsese’s mob epics, he always portrays his criminal characters’ story arcs as slow and excruciating descents into hell. In Gotti, the film ends with a spirited defense of the Gottis against the evil U.S. government, which committed the apparently unpardonable sin of prosecuting mobsters. The final 10 minutes or so of Gotti are just flat-out immoral.
What Can Filmmakers and Actors Learn From Gotti?
Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time working in film and TV will inevitably be a part of some projects that stink. As hard as a film’s entire cast and crew might work, sometimes nothing quite comes together the way the director intended. However, learning from flawed films might be one of the best ways to avoid repeating other filmmakers’ mistakes. In this way, Gotti actually serves as a valuable tool for what writers and directors should not do. It would be a terrible shame to see future crime epics make the same mistakes as Gotti. The man’s life story was far too dramatic and interesting to be reduced to this dunderheaded film.
The Big Picture
- A confusing narration and multiple timeline jumps make Gotti a jumbled mess, leaving audiences unsure of what is happening.
- Uninteresting supporting characters and a lack of clear storytelling make it difficult to connect or care about anyone besides Gotti.
- Director Kevin Connelly’s defense of the immoral actions of its title character is inexcusable and glorifies the mafia, creating a harmful message.