Here’s an excellent, classy, Italian crime thriller that takes its cues from City of God and The Godfather and also resembles another recent film, Ridley Scott’s American Gangster, in using a true story set in the criminal underworld to tell the history of a city through the seventies and eighties. In this case, though, the setting is Rome, and the anti-heroes are based on the Magliani gang, who ended up controlling much of the drugs trade in the city over a near twenty year period.
The story follows three friends who grow up on the wrong side of tracks, graduate from stealing cars – via regular spells in prison – to kidnapping big wigs, investing the ransom money in drugs, forging links with the Sicilian Mafia (and shadowy state organisations) and eventually becoming the most powerful gang in Rome. Along the way, they are involved in assorted events of historical importance, such as the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro and the bombing of Bologna station in 1980, before internal squabbling and ill-discipline cause their inevitable demise.
All of this is put together with a considerable amount of distinction by actor-turned-director Michele Placido, who seems to have learnt from his experiences working with the likes of Carlo Lizzani and Damiano Damiani. It’s slickly assembled, looks fabulous and is certainly the equal – in terms of production values – to any of the more expensive gangster films coming out of the US at the moment. It also benefits from a good script, based on the novel by the former judge Giancarlo De Cataldo, Stefano Rulli and Sandro Petraglia (who scripted several of the popular Octopus TV series) and excellent performances from just about all the performers, particularly Kim Rossi Stuart, Pierfrancisco Favino and Claudio Santamaria as the three protagonists.
What with Gomorra and some other, less known productions – such as La cura del Gorilla, Piano 17 and Cemento armato - it seems like the Italian crime film is undergoing something of a renaissance. Well, maybe. The trouble is that these films are still only coming out rarely – it’s a far cry from the 70s, when you could expect a new one virtually every week – and there aren’t the middle-budget entries; the professional, decent films made by committed crafsmen who could guarantee a decent profit for anyone willing to take a punt on them. Furthemore, apart from the prestige entries – such as Romanzo criminale - hardly any of them get any kind of international release. Still, it’s nice that good, decent poliziotteschi are being made… it’s just it would be nicer still if they felt like part of a movement rather than primarily isolated genre examples.