The Gambinos Review: A remake that could've been much better
Vishnu Vinay and Sijoy Varghese manage to stand out in a film that lacks the tension and dramatic depth needed for a crime story of this magnitude
The inspiration for the title, The Gambinos, came from an infamous New York crime family, which has shown up earlier in an Australian film called Animal Kingdom. From beginning to end, it's the same film, albiet not of the same quality. Radhikaa plays Mariamma, the matriarch of the crime family, originally played by Jacki Weaver in the original, Vishnu Vinay's Musthafa is James Frecheville’s character; and Sampath Raj’s Jose, Ben Mendelsohn’s.
Director: Girish Mattada
Cast: Vishnu Vinay, Radikaa Sarathkumar, Sampath Raj, Sreejith Ravi
When Musthafa’s mother passes away, Mariamma comes to pick him up. She is not accompanied by a driver or bodyguards. She drove there herself. Does this make the film ideal for Women’s Day? Maybe. We learn her eldest son Jose (Sampath), is in hiding, and a couple of cops are on surveillance duty, hoping to catch him red-handed. Their frustration will one day lead them to an impulsive act of violence that turns the family upside down. Anyone from the family or associated with them are going to be affected. And Jose’s arrival takes everyone to places they didn’t want to go. The innocent and meek Musthafa is thrown into a whirlpool of murder and mayhem, and it’s not going to take very long before he breaks.
Not that there’s anything wrong with doing a remake, but when the material is already available, you start pondering the various dimensions it can take when adapting it for a Malayali audience. We have seen filmmakers like Vishal Bharadwaj take on more complex subjects in the past. Maqbool (adapted from Shakespeare’s Macbeth) and Omkara (from Othello) are classic examples. As some filmmakers say, casting the right people gets most — or at least, half — of the job done. That’s not the case with The Gambinos. Radhika and Sampath are talented actors no doubt, but except for a few moments which convey their characters’ true colours, they’re terribly miscast here. Mariamma is a fierce, strong-headed woman who is capable of getting emotional too. She could go to any lengths to protect her sons. Jose is the impulsive, unpredictable, Sonny Corleone-type figure who is blamed by his mother for putting the entire family in danger.
However, much of the tension gets lost as a result of the dubbing in more than one instance. The music doesn’t quite gel with the visuals and the overall picturisation evokes memories of Malayalam television dramas. For a debutant, director Girish Mattada is not too bad, and in his attempt, one recognises a need to do something unique with a genre that has a long history in Hollywood and around the world.
Vishnu Vinay is aptly cast in a role that requires him to look confused and clueless for most of the film’s runtime. Musthafa, like Michael Corleone in The Godfather, has neither touched a gun nor dealt with drugs before. So the lost-in-the-woods look he sports cannot be dismissed as an acting flaw. Also, I’m glad the makers retained the intensity of the original film’s climax. I flinched, despite knowing how it was going to end. If only the rest of the film carried the same energy.