Romanzo Criminale

Romanzo Criminale

***1/2

Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

Based on the exploits of the real life criminal organisation the Magliana Gang, Romanzo Criminale charts a clique of petty hoods’ rise to become a dominant force in the criminal underworld of the Seventies and Eighties. What sets this apart from other such Mafioso tales is how it disturbingly ties their criminal dealings to the modern political history of Italy.

In the late Sixties, three young criminals, Lebanese (Pierfrancesco Favino), Ice (Kim Rossi Stuart) and Dandy (Claudio Santamaria) are tired of the small time wheeling-dealing. They’re ready for serious crime, serious money and serious power. Instead of blowing their latest ill-gotten gains on drugs and women, they agree to invest in the heroin market instead. With diamond-hard nerves, ruthless conviction and brutal methods of persuasion they soon rise to supremacy in the narcotics trade, ruling Rome’s criminal class.

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However, they don’t get to the top alone. They’re being watched. Shady characters call upon the cruel, intelligent Lebanese and his gang to enlist their services. Atrocious acts of national terrorism take place. The Gang continue to operate. Prosecutions fail to hold. In some way high-level people who have an interest in manipulating the underworld for their own political machinations topside are protecting them. It’s an engaging take on a murky, controversial chapter in Italy’s modern social and political history and lifts the story above the usual Mafia humdrum, especially as it is aided by the inclusion of real Italian news footage of assassinations and terrorist acts.

This is just as well because we’ve certainly seen the ‘confident friends become goodfellas become paranoid enemies’ story arc before. The inclusion of a sexy femme fatale becoming an integral cog in the machine is nothing new either. In this case with it’s Dandy’s fiery relationship with high-class hooker Patrizia (Anna Mougalis). On top of that, there’s Ice’s fates-crossed romance with the virginal Roberta (Jasmine Trinca), to show his softer side and the pull to leave the Business for her. However, the quality acting from everyone pulls the characters through these gangster genre staples with enough gusto. Stuart and Favino’s gravitas and poise stand out once the story has begun to find its feet.

That takes a little while because things kick off at such a gallop. Starting with the friends as boys and spinning to their establishment as a heavy criminal force the film develops at such a speed, with much crashing and banging and eddying cameras, you seriously begin to doubt the quality of the filmmaking. Luckily it all calms down in the middle section, when the police and political forces move onto the stage. Although, the romantic ménage à trois between Patrizia, Dandy and Stefano Accorsi’s dogged police inspector feels at odds with the rest of the plotting. If it’s based on truth then fair enough, but otherwise it feels faintly ridiculous.

It is only when we get to the final, protracted act that things start to feel truly tense and emotionally involving. We’re again in slightly clichéd territory, though, this being when the lifelong friends are finally pulled apart by the lifestyles, vendettas and honour-grudges while trying to find a way out. Not as stylish or as nail biting as, say, Carlito’s Way, director Michele Placido uses his time to build up a more tragic, emotional tension of inevitability.

Following the popular success of Giancarlo De Cataldo’s novel on which his screenplay is based there was a lot of web-chatter of disappointment when Placido got the film reins. Good actor, poor director was the general gist. It’s certainly not as bad as people feared. Maybe not as artful as some would have liked, his direction is nonetheless tight and clean, with Rome and the rural locations served well by Luca Bigazzi’s excellent cinematography.

At nearly two and half hours long Placido has gone for an epic Italian sweep of friendship, violence and political corruption. Unfortunately the three uneven acts that worked well in the novel undermine his attempt here and it overstays by about 20 minutes. It’s definitely worth your while, but if he’d cut some of superfluous elements it would be more of a classic gut-punch rather than a cool winding.

Reviewed on: 25 Oct 2006
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Gritty tale of organised crime and murky Italian politics.
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Angus Wolfe Murray **1/2

Director: Michele Placido

Writer: Giancarlo De Cataldo

Starring: Kim Rossi Stuart, Pierfrancesco Favino, Claudio Santamaria, Anna Mouglalis, Stefano Accorsi, Jasmine Trinca, Riccardo Scamarcio, Toni Bertorelli, Massimo Popolizio

Year: 2006

Runtime: 152 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Italy/France/UK

Festivals:

London 2006

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Carlito's Way