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HBO presents
Gotti: The Rise and Fall of a Real Life Mafia Don (2000)

"Hey, they know me. I know who I am. I'm not embarassed by who I am."
- John Gotti (Armand Assante)

Review By: Jesse Shanks   
Published: October 04, 2000

Stars: Armand Assante, William Forsythe, Anthony Quinn
Other Stars: Richard C. Sarafian, Frank Vincent,
Director: Robert Harmon

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for Language, Violence
Run Time: 01h:44m:00s
Release Date: September 19, 2000
UPC: 026359128622
Genre: gangster

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B BB-B- C-

DVD Review

This is ground that has been well covered in recent years. The story of the Mafia or La Cosa Nostra has been dramatically documented in film from The Brotherhood through The Godfather and on to Goodfellas. Even more so, our fascination with gangsters is even older—cinema history is rich with the stories of organized crime from the bootleggers of the prohibition era to the high tech criminal gangs of today. Some of the greatest stars of Hollywood have taken turns as gang criminals. Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Kirk Douglas, Robert DeNiro, Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman and more have all brought these bad men to life on the screen. Fascinatingly there has been a cross-feeding between film and real life as actors imitated real gangsters and then the real criminals imitated their heroes from the screen!

HBO's Gotti is a fairly minor entry into the canon of gangster drama. One of it's main selling points is mentioned in the subtitle: "The Rise and Fall of a Real Life Mafia Don." This movie tells a version of the story of John Gotti, who rose through the ranks of the Gambino family to eventually rule that criminal empire. There are familiar aspects to the story for viewers who enjoy a good "family" movie with murder, betrayal and omerta, the all-important, mysterious Sicilian code of silence and honor. Often, the source of conflict in this genre involves a changing of the guard. The young, ambitious soldiers move through the ranks and come into conflict with the old guard criminal that are the bosses of the gangs. Gotti represented a different kind of new breed because he advocated a return to a more "traditional" type of gang activity. He was opposed to the new style gangster, with fingers in as many legitimate enterprises as illegal, represented by Paul Castellano; the man who takes command of the Gambino family upon the death of the old Don.

This forms the "rise" of Gotti as he enlists other like-minded members of the gang, like Sammy "The Bull" Graviano, in a murderous coup and assumes the role of "Boss." At the same time, Gotti triumphs in an assault trial by bribing a juror and with a flair for publicity and a penchant for expensive suits becomes a news celebrity dubbed the "Dapper Don." Then after beating another indictment by the U.S. Government for racketeering, he becomes known as the "Teflon Don" for the way that no charges can stick against him.

This notoriety puts Gotti directly in the sights of the Government and his distraction with his legal problems allows other elements of his organization to capitalize on their own plans. As the movie moves into the "fall," there are moments when Gotti achieves a certain Shakespearean anti-villain status. He appears to be an honorable man surrounded by evil and corruption. Of course, this is nonsense as Gotti is among the most brutal of criminals and proudly so.

Part of the Gotti character's appeal in this film is the tour de force performance of Amand Assante as the "real life" Don. Appearing in almost every scene of the film in many varied situations, Assante is consistently riveting as he explores the motivations of this character in the primitive world of gangland violence. Most of the other actors are serviceable, although their characterizations occasionally devolve into clichés. Two exceptions are William Forsythe, who gives a solid performance as the brutal, conniving "Underboss" Graviano and Anthony Quinn with a potent Golden Globe® nominated appearance as Neil Dellacroce, a member of the older generation of mobsters and Gotti's mentor.

The script is by Steven Shagan, who has written such well-known films as The Sicilian, Nightwing, The Formula and Save The Tiger. With very crisp and intelligent dialogue, the story is compelling and the characters are mostly well fleshed out. Unfortunately, the real life aspect of this movie is also a negative as the true story of Gotti loses steam as he loses control of his criminal empire.

Ultimately, this is a diverting and reasonably intriguing movie that deserves a place in the collection of gangster film fans. Assante creates an indelible character as the modern Don and this film represents a kind of closure on an era of the gangster types that we have known through their idealization on film.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Gotti is presented in its original made-for-cable 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio. Shot on video, the image is not bad overall, but not up to film standards. There is a good consistency in the imagery from the darkened rooms to the streets of New York. Although I detected an occasional graininess, there was very little to detract from the viewing experience.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English,Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: HBO, once again, features three soundtracks—a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track in English, a stereo track in French, and a mono Spanish track. The DD 2.0 track features centered dialogue, with the score and occasional atmospheric effects in the surrounds. Stereo/panning effects are rarely used, but the film doesn't require anything fancy in the audio department. This is a well-designed TV-movie soundtrack, with solid mixing of dialogue, music and sound effects. There was a very realistic feel to the sound that added to the realism of the story as a whole.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 15 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: No extras found here beyond the well done, informative biographies and filmographies. It was a pleasure just to click through the list of Tony Quinn's films spanning a 64-year career as actor, director and producer.

One might think that a "real life" drama might include some extras that pertain to the events portrayed. I confess to being curious to know more about the real life people portrayed here.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Armand Assante gives a dynamic performance in Gotti: The Rise and Fall of a Real Life Mafia Don." Portraying the real life story of Mafia Don John Gotti, the film is interesting and compelling in its depiction of conflict within a New York crime family. Recommended for fans of the gangster genre and true crime biopics.


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