SPOILRE WARNERING: When I finally get to the movie below, I will be speaking of various things that actually happen in the movie because I find it necessary to do so to properly criticize the film. You have been warned.
Well, since prompted by CRZ (boy, I blame that guy for EVERYTHING)
Quick digression - some of you may know that I capped off a truly crappy 2006 - diabetes, being forced to move because my ex-landlord SUXXXORRED, being unable to write because coping with diabetes robbed me of energy and creativity - where was I? Right capped off a truly crappy 2006 by being fired one week before Christmas.
So, I was not looking very hard for a new job, because I was living off of my last pay cheque and I wanted to get the IWS' big Medley show out of the way. The Wednesday before the Medley show I was eating at my favourite Chinese restaurant when an old friend of mine came in for a Pad Thai. We had not spoken for close to six months so he had no idea that I was unemployed. When he found out, he told me that he was leaving his job and that I would be perfect for his old one.
Long story short, too late, I am now the director of the Young Cuts Film Festival www.youngcuts.com It specializes in short films by film makers 25 years and under.
I am sure with a little bit of work, I can blame CRZ for that too.
End of not so quick digression.
Right. So, prompted by CRZ, I just finished my review of A Scanner Darkly in the latest DVD thread and I decided that I should get off my duff and write up some of my impressions of films that no other (or very few) W's are ever going to see. Or possibly get on my duff since I do write these sitting down.
This Italian mob movie opens with four pint-sized criminals stealing a car and running over a policeman while making their abortive getaway. The four are Lebanese, Ice, Dandy and Grand. Making their way to their "secret" hideout, Grand declares that he is dying as the police show up. Running for their lives, Ice is caught by the police, Lebanese comes back to save him and is captured by the police and his leg is broken in the process. Dandy makes a clean getaway.
The film resumes when Ice finally gets out of jail as a young man. The film implies that Lebanese got out of jail early because of his injury and that Dandy never went to jail at all. The three friends form a gang that gradually builds a criminal empire in Rome.
Romanzo Criminale translates literally as Crime Novel and the film emphasizes its title by dividing the film into three chapters, one for Lebanese, one for Ice and the final one for Dandy. This is probably a mistake. First of all, the chapter on Lebanese takes up half the film, while those for Ice and Dandy take up the remaining quarters. Lebanese's story does end in his chapter, but Ice's story while interrupted does not end at the end of his chapter, while Dandy's story ends half-way through his chapter and the film returns to Ice's story. None of these are unsurmountable problems in a film, but by drawing attention to them, the film magnifies the flaws.
In true novelistic fashion, all of the gang emebers are relevant to the story, even seemingly minor characters. The film would probably reward repeat viewings since the gang tears itself apart from the inside and the various murders and betrayals are frequently caused by the main characters but reacted to and fulfilled by the minor characters.
Also in novelistic fashion, the names of the characters are important keys to their fate, which makes sense since their names are self-chosen. Lebanese is named after his love for Lebanese marijuana and his desire to feel nothing with the help of drugs, but he can not dull his own ambition to be an Underwolrd Emperor which proves to be his undoing. Similarly, Ice's passion, his heat proves to be his doom. Dandy conversely is destroyed by his cowardice, by his desire to keep his hands clean.
Dandy is also doomed by his view of himself as a ladies' man and his obsessive love for a high-class courtesan who is in turn in love with the cop obsessed with catching the members of the gang. Patrizia, the courtesan, is your traditional whore with a heart of gold, but the cliche is redeemed by Anna Mouglalis' bravura performance. She sells her body but clings to her soul, finally surrendering her soul to save the life of the obsessive cop that she loves.
The film is operatic in scale and deliberately patterns itself on the Godfather movies and Goodfellas. It gets away with this because while the film is flawed, it is flawed on the grand scale. And after all, who has a better right to make an Italian mob movie than an Italian?
Like Goodfellas, the film uses music to cue the time changes. It also uses clips from famous Italian events which are less succesful for someone less familiar with Italian history. I am sure that the victory of Italy over Germany in the World Cup is a seminal moment in footie and in Italian history, but personally I am damned if I know when it happened in relation to the murder of the Italian Prime Minister by the Red Brigade.
One of the tropes of mobster films is the way that mobsters corrupt government. Romanzo Criminale ups the ante on this by portraying the Italian Government as a co-conspirator with the Roman gang, on the not unreasonable basis that no matter their faults as criminals, the gang are capitalists and thus mortal enemies of the communists like the terrorist Red Brigade. Curiously, while the government thus shields the crimianls from prosecution, it also destroys the gang as it fuels Lebanese's ambition leading to his death and Ice's violent reaction to Lebanese's death propels the gang's continued destruction. In a sense the government is so corrupt that it corrupts the gang.
My biggest issue with the film is its ending. Like say Changing Lanes or L.A. Confidential which have perfectly cynical downbeat endings and then commit artistic suicide by tacking on an inappropriate happy ending. (In L.A. Confidential the Russell Crowe character survives his shooting and leaves L.A. with Kim Basinger's high-priced courtesan/Veronica Lake look-a-like. In Changing Lanes, Ben Affleck miraculously cures the ills in Samuel Jackson's marriage and manages a reconciliation, when she has previously explained her position that their can be NO reconciliation because the Samuel Jackson character is addicted to his rage, something that Ben Affleck's character can not solve.)
Romanzo Criminal finishes perfectly with Ice, the last member of the gang, killing his former gang buddy who murdered his girl friend because Ice had killed his brother because the brother had stolen drugs from the gang and was partly responsible for Ice's brother dying of a drug overdose. *PHEW* In turn, Ice is gunned down by an assassin so that he can not reveal the secrets of the gang's involvement with the government to the obsessive cop who has been tracking the gang for years. When the cop arrives on the scene he angrily demands that someone place a sheet over Ice's body.
END FILM THERE.
At this point, we return to the boy's hideaway. Grand comes out of the hideout and the four boys reunited once more tear off across the sand of the beach pursued, but never caught, by the police.
I am not saying that the movie is perfect until that point, but it is a good mobster film with ambition and when it does fail, it fails ambitiously. It is badly served by that sentimental clap-trap.
It also destroys, to me, one of the key ambiguities of the film. If you ignore that last moment, one of the ways of interpreting the movie is to believe that the obsessive cop (whose first name is never revealed) is in fact Andrea aka Grand, the fourth member of the gang who "died" in the hideout. After all, we only have Grand's word for it that he is dying.
That creates a better unity with the opening sequence and gives the obsessive cop a hidden motivation for his obsessive quest to bring Lebanese, Ice and Dandy to justice. It also explains why Dandy is the member of the gang that he hates the most, since Dandy abandoned all of them while Ice was caught and Lebanese was caught trying to save Ice.
(edited by Llakor on 6.4.07 2103) "Don't Blame CANADA, Blame Yourselves!"
For the sake of completeness... 20TH CENTURY FOX American Crime Story: The People v. O.j. Simpson Blu-ray (The W at Amazon) American Crime Story: The People v. O.j. Simpson Bigger Splash, A Blu-ray Bigger Splash, A X-Men (digital purchase)