Some would argue that Italian cinema has had a rocky history, with many critics finding it hard to overcome the trashy Italian comedy films that dominated the 1980s. In recent years however it seems to have gotten back to its feet again, with a raft of Oscars in the nineties and several Cannes awards being dished out in the noughties. This success hasn’t stopped director Quentin Tarantino having a pop at the country’s big screen output though, saying in 2007: “New Italian cinema is just depressing. Recent films I’ve seen are all the same. They talk about boys growing up, or girls growing up, or couples having a crisis, or vacations of the mentally impaired.”
For his comments he received criticism from Italian media outlets and actress Sophia Loren, who said “How dare he talk about Italian cinema when he doesn’t know anything about American cinema?”. Some might say she has a point.
The latest film to come out of the ‘old country’ is Angels of Evil,(Gli Angeli del Male). Directed by Michele Placido, who also oversaw the successful Romanzo Criminale in 2005, the film documents the life of infamous Milanese bank robber Renato Vallanzasca (Kim Rossi Stuart), a man in and out of prison most of his life who committed numerous robberies and kidnappings along the way.
Italian gangster films are normally very watchable. The aforementioned Romanzo Criminale, also featuring Kim Rossi Stuart, is excellent, whilst gritty crime drama Gomorrah was so good it won the Gran Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008. However, even though Angels Of Evil has the right formula, it doesn’t come across as well as other films in the genre.
The film’s plot jumps around more than Tigger out of Winnie the Pooh. It’s a struggle to identify who’s who among the main characters, with the film only touching on Vallanzasca’s life when he was younger. Since several characters from his childhood play major parts later in the film, it’s a shame that these foundations aren’t a bit clearer to the viewer. Vallanzasca was clearly troubled by the death of his brother early in life but this is only hinted at, with the relationship between the pair not being shown at all.
Angels of Evil, based on the biography Il fiore del male, Bandito a Milano by Italian journalist Carlo Bonini, seems determined to portray Vallanzasca in a very positive light, with the character and his gang disapproving of killing both police and civilians alike. This presents the bank robbers as a pack of cheeky ‘Robin Hood’ like gangsters, robbing only from banks and businesses, not willing to kill innocent people to get what they want. It’s hard not to wonder how much of this is true.
You’ll be pleased to know however that the film remains faithful to the gangster genre, and certainly packs a few punches along the way with plenty of brutality. There are also some humorous moments, and viewers won’t be able to help but chuckle with ‘ladies man’ Vallanzasca nearly always in a moment of intimacy when he gets arrested.
The plot is certainly interesting, and there’s no denying that the film is based on someone who had an exciting and entertaining life. It’s a shame therefore that the director has focussed too much on style rather than substance, and could have explored the character of Vallanzasca so much more. While the film is a joy to watch creatively, Placido should have concentrated far more on fleshing out the film’s central characters and their relationships, rather than simply trying to appeal to the viewer’s visual appetite.
Angels Of Evil is an average gangster romp that tries stretch itself too far and consequently it feels like the Godfather trilogy crammed into 125 minutes; segments seem somewhat rushed which takes away from the overall effect of the film. A good story is nothing without its foundations, and the director should have focused far more on how Vallanzasca came to be the infamous bank robber and gangster now currently serving several life sentences.