30 May 2011

Where Angels Fear To Tread

As soon as I saw the trailer for Vallanzasca: Gli angeli del male ("Angels of Evil"), I realised it was clearly trying to be an Italian version of Mesrine. This isn't a bad thing; I really enjoyed both parts of the film about the life and death of France's John Dillinger, Jacques Mesrine. They were stylish, had a great soundtrack and great acting from Vincent Cassel (among others), and the fact that the total running time was over four hours was ameliorated by the fact that it was well paced and split into two parts.

I liked Gli Angeli del Male, which looks at the life of Italian mobster Renato Vallanzasca, but I suspect I would have liked it a lot more if I hadn't already seen Mesrine. The antiheroes -- and thus the plots -- are pretty damn similar: they both grow up in lower middle-class backgrounds and are pushed, in part by events in their formative years, into a life of robbery, violence and murder. But they are highly charismatic and attractive to women (during one of his incarcerations, Vallanzasca is seen wading through giant sacks of fan mail letters describing, as his friend puts it, "the perverse fantasies of housewives across Italy") and to the audience.

Gl Angeli del Male opens in the early 1980s; Vallanzasca is seen in solitary confinement, inciting the guards and ultimately being beaten up. He then flashes back to crimes -- and incarcerations -- past. His first gang of cronies included two childhood friends with whom he let out tigers and other wild animals from the circus, earning him a bout in reform school, which provided excellent reprobate training. But after a father-figure for Vallanzasca kills his (own) wife and himself, his crimes soon accelerate. By the early 1970s, Vallanzasca is in his early 20s and, with a bunch of mates is romping around Milan holding up banks, killing cops and screwing prostitutes. His big rival is Francis Turatello, a club owner who seems to have taken Ross Geller (circa his high school prom) as a style icon. He has a son with Consuelo, a woman he meets in a club and who ultimately leaves him for a more respectable guy. He gets imprisoned, he escapes, he gets caught again, he gets transferred between prisons, he escapes again. And so on...

All of this action is set to a cool soundtrack but although the two-hour film moves along fairly quickly, it gets quite repetitive and there isn't the same sense of progression you got in Mesrine. The central character keeps on making the same mistakes over and over again, he doesn't show any remorse for what he's done (when asked why he kills, he replies, "to defend myself") and he doesn't really show any signs of changing his ways. He just carries on escaping, re-offending and making blasé statements along the lines of, "well, I've got to rob banks and do all this because it's what I do and what I'm good at." This may well be accurate and actor Kim Rossi Stuart may well have the charm and presence to carry off the role but by the end of the film, I was wishing I had a watch to check. A few of the almost-subplots could easily have been removed and 20 minutes shaved off the runtime, which would have resulted in a much tighter and more exciting film.

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