Gotti isn't a great movie, but it's better than you've heard, thanks to an always-watchable performance by its star, John Travolta. Unfortunately, this bare-bones Blu-ray doesn't provide a lot of incentive for purchase, with no bonus materials and an only average (although glitch-free) presentation in the A/V department. Still, both Travolta and mob movie fans will want to add this one to their Rent It list.
Before Gotti even made it to theaters earlier this year, the movie felt like someone had put out a hit on it. A project that had been in development seemingly forever, the movie went from having A-list talent like director Barry Levinson and actor Al Pacino attached to finally settling on Entourage actor Kevin Connolly to direct the picture, with John Travolta in the lead role. The resulting film had a very low budget (reportedly around the $10 million range), was shot primarily in Cincinnati instead of New York, and was yanked from a planned December 2017 release because distributor Lionsgate sold the movie back to the producers, delaying the release to summer of this year. As if all that turmoil weren't enough, the movie died a quick death at the box office and is one of the few titles to have earned the unwanted "honor" of having a 0% "Fresh" score on the movie review amalgamation website, RottenTomatoes.com.
Given all of the above, Gotti has to be a horrible mess, right? Well, the biggest surprise here is that it's not. Yes, it's far from a great movie...and perhaps not actually a "good" one either, but certainly not worthy of the drubbing it has received. Despite a number of problems, including a rather bland directorial effort from Connolly that makes the movie look and feel more like a made-for-cable film than a full-blown feature, there's a number of things to enjoy here, not the least of which is a performance by Travolta that – if far from award-worthy – is certainly a blast to watch. It's clear that he's having a lot of fun playing the "Teflon Don" in a movie that requires him to be in almost every scene.
While Gotti doesn't glamorize the evil that these men do, it certainly doesn't condemn it, making the federal government just as oppressive and immoral as the organized crime members they are trying to put behind bars. Gotti's son, John Gotti Jr. (played by Spencer Lofranco), provided the rights to the filmmakers to make a movie about himself and his father, which probably played no small part in the way the storyline treats Gotti Jr. here – he's more a victim than a criminal, despite clearly playing a role in his father's enterprise.
The story is pretty by-the-numbers and should be familiar to anyone who has knowledge of Gotti's background and life. The movie uses a number of flash-forward/flashback techniques to tell its tale, starting with the now-deceased Gotti standing in front of the Brooklyn Bridge introducing himself to the audience and, later, scenes between the senior Gotti and his son in prison, where Jr. is about ready to make a deal with the government in order to serve less time behind bars (and his father's negative reaction to that idea). The film also covers other important events in Gotti's life, including the hit on the Gambino crime family boss Paul Castellano, which would result in Gotti becoming the head of the family, as well as the tragic death of his youngest son. It's the latter event where we see the most human side of Gotti, although only for a sparse few minutes of screen time – as if the filmmakers were afraid to make their lead character too human, given some of his monstrous acts.
One of the biggest things Gotti has going against it is that it can't possibly live up to other titles in this genre. Despite being often very watchable, the movie doesn't hold a candle to other mob movies, although Connolly definitely tries to use the same methods here that made Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas one of the all-time best in any genre (for example, he has Travolta providing voice-overs throughout and makes frequent use of popular songs from the years being depicted). This effort to copy another great film prevents Gotti from ever becoming its own distinct thing, as these moments from Connolly never seem like a homage as much as they do a weak attempt at copying a much better director.
Yet, despite all this, Travolta is the real reason to devote a couple hours of your life to Gotti. His acting here is less an attempt at a realistic characterization than it is trying to capture the essence of what Gotti must have been like – both charming and malicious in equal doses. A man with no moral compass, yet completely devoted to family – both his biological one and the one of his profession. No, I can't say this is Travolta's best performance, but it's certainly one of his most entertaining ones – and that alone, despite the other problems this movie has, is enough to give this release a look.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Gotti hits Blu-ray from Vertical Entertainment (and distributed by Lionsgate, although their logo appears nowhere on the packaging or disc itself) in an eco-friendly Elite keepcase. In addition to the 25GB single-layer disc, the case includes an insert with a code to redeem a digital copy of the movie. There are no front-loaded trailers on the Blu-ray, whose main menu features the same headshot of John Travolta that the keepcase cover does, with menu selections on the right of the screen.
The back cover of the keepcase labels this release as a Region A disc, but it's actually region-free.
Gotti was shot digitally using the Sony F55. I can't recall the last movie I watched that was shot on the F55, but this is a pretty drab-looking presentation. Which is not to say there's an issue with the actual transfer of the movie itself onto Blu-ray. Details are actually decent, depending on the physical location of a scene (like most digitally shot movies, outdoor sequences have more "pop" than indoor/set pieces), and I didn't detect any blatant problems with banding or aliasing. The real issue goes back to the choices made by cinematographer Michael Barrett. Gotti spends a lot of time swimming around in yellows and browns and few scenes make a journey outside of that color palette. The whites of Gotti's prison scenes are the brightest this movie ever gets, and even those sequences don't exactly burst with color, despite the character's orange prison jumpsuit.
With the above in mind, and not having seen Gotti during its theatrical run (but hey, did any of us?), it's probably a good bet that the transfer here provides a proper interpretation of what the movie is supposed to look like – I just wish those choices would have been a bit more colorful.
The featured audio mix on this release is an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. While this lossless audio is far from dynamic, it's free from any noticeable problems and provides for a more than acceptable presentation. The surrounds here are primarily used to enhance the movie's musical soundtrack and viewers/listeners should have no problem noticing when they're used. Other than that, though, the surrounds are not used all that much for ambient sounds and/or any directionality.
In addition to the 5.1 DTS lossless track, a 2.0 track is also available, although your mileage may vary on how your receiver decodes it. According to the press release that came with my copy, the 2.0 audio should be DTS-HD. However, the box cover claims the audio options for this release are 5.1 English Dolby Digital (clearly wrong) and 2.0 Dolby Digital. My own receiver decodes the 2.0 track as LPCM, so who knows? My suggestion is to just stick with the 5.1 audio and you'll be fine. As for subtitles, they are available in English SDH only.
Gotti arrives on Blu-ray bare-bones. There are no bonus features, no front-loaded trailers. Nothing.
While no one will ever accuse Gotti of being a great film, it certainly was not deserving of the critical thrashing it received during its brief theatrical run. It's a low-budget effort from a middling director, but star John Travolta doesn't have anything to be embarrassed about, nor does the supporting cast. Even though the movie plays more like something you'd see on cable TV than a full-blown feature, both fans of Travolta and mob stories in general should find enough here to warrant at least one viewing. Rent It.