VFF Film Review – Italian Gangsters
Attempting to be introspective, Italian Gangsters tries telling the traditional gangster story in a different way but lacks enough insight to make these criminals interesting. Gangsters as a concept are inherently interesting, they live the life that none of us could yet we cannot help but glamorize the sense of freedom that these people have in doing what they want at all times and getting rich at the same time. It is now a familiar story to us with countless movies and TV shows yet they are still fascinating. Director Renato De Maria tries to tell this story as an almost documentary style with actors pretending to be the gangsters explaining their choices, but his experiment has mixed results.
As we are introduced to these gangsters they stand in a sort of purgatory, a dark room where they simply talk about the life they have led getting into their motivations as well as the power and status they derived from being bank robbers. These conversations are interwoven with historical footage and what looks to be scenes from old movies from the sixties and seventies. This is at best a fifty percent effective method, for those that set the scene others would feel more like filling time and have only the most peripheral connection to what is being talked about. In some cases it is downright confusing trying to make these scenes fit the previous conversation. The ones that do work are able to create a sense of time and place about how intense the political and social situation was in Italy and the way poverty bred a desire to become rich no matter what, especially when it seemed that no one was working to help those who had nothing.
The gangsters themselves are in many cases interchangeable. Part of the problem is that they were Italian criminals whose exploits enticed a nation when they happened, yet I have never heard of them. Even in the way we are told about them they lack many defining traits. We never see them out with each other or interacting with anyone so we have no real perspective of them as people. Even the stories they are telling don’t vary that much to give them distinct personalities. That said, having these men simply being of the life could have been the goal yet it left them actually less effective because they seem predictable in what we learn about them. They enjoyed the rush, the beautiful women, the company of each other. That was really it and it became repetitive and dull really quickly.
The only exception is for the last ten minutes or so of the film talking to those that didn’t die and served prison terms. They got into what that experience did to them as well as how it changed them, providing many different angles to their new situation. Some missed the rush while others became angrier at the world and still others took simple joy in what they had when they got out and were thrilled that something different gave them meaning. This was more interesting because it was unexpected and played a part in the gangster story that is usually not brought up as much: what happens when the crime spree stops.
Yet it is really not enough to make the film memorable. So many of the scenes blend together that it is hard to really create a sense of momentum for anything that happens. They talk about a crime, then about the women that they wanted, then that they were in trouble with the police on a major scale. It was not exciting just to hear about this, you wanted to see what was happening and experience the highs and the lows to really understand what it was that made them love it so. The actors had a good sense of how to present themselves, they held the screen with their rage, or their desires for the rush of crime, sex and living the high life. Still they moved about too quickly so that, while they can present themselves well, they are more like narrators with facial expressions than real people.
Overall there is little to really recommend here. The mood can be good but only about half the time, and the acting is often fine yet there is no spark to anything. The film feels like it has a destination in mind with how it is telling this story but it is too detached to be truly engaging.