Piranhas review: a gangster film with a slightly different approach

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Meet the gangster film that finds a different way through the conventions that usually make up movies of its type.

Despite its fierce and violent sounding name, Piranhas is far from being your typical bloody and brutal mafia thriller. In fact, Piranhas is more of a coming-of-age story than a gangster drama, and it’s all the better for it.

Set in the city of Naples, this Italian film follows a group of teenage boys as they try to find their place in the disreputable town, choosing to embrace a life of crime, stalking the streets on their scooters, armed with weapons. Spending their money on tables at nightclubs, fancy clothes and PlayStation games, the group soon get bored of doing their mob boss’ bidding and start setting their sights higher.

Adapted from Roberto Saviano’s 2010 novel La Paranza dei Bambini, whilst the story is fictional it’s based on truth, reflective of the corruption in Naples, and the experiences of real-life teenage gangs, something both the book and movie have received much praise for. Keeping the story grounded in reality may mean that the film, despite its name, lacks bite, but it’s also a refreshing take on the mobster genre, and provides much food for thought in regards to the themes of youth and crime. Action fans may be a little disappointed by the lack of shootouts, fights and car chases. Yet it’s fascinating watching the boys lose their innocence as they handle their first pistol, yet remaining childish as they giggle away while snorting cocaine and getting into petty scraps. Analysing themes such as masculinity and puberty, the film continually reminds us that these boys, even armed with AK-47s, are at the end of the day children.

Central to the movie’s success is the fantastic performance of Francesco Di Napoli who plays ring leader Nicola, and was plucked from the streets for the role with no audition or experience. Starting his life of crime wanting to help his mother and put a stop to her paying the mob for protection, Nicola is the emotional beating heart that we very much need to invest in the story. And like with many coming-of-age stories, we’re there with him as he finds first love, embraces adult responsibility, makes mistakes and suffers the harsh consequences.

Piranhas is never unafraid to shy away from the truth. An underplayed yet captivating drama, Piranhas may not make waves but is was thoroughly deserving of its Best Screenplay win at the Berlin International Film Festival. Do seek it out.


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