Fox // 2010 // 128 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // September 27th, 2011
Goodfellas Meets Gomorrah? Not Hardly...
As he sits in his jail cell, thinking back about his life, notorious Italian bank robber and killer Renato Vallanzasca (Kim Rossi Stuart, Romanzo Criminale) attempts to tie his wistful past to his condemned present. He recalls his harried mother (Valeria Solarino), his stint in reform school after an incident at the circus, and the many memorable nights of drugs and drink with the members of his fledgling crime "family." Eventually, Vallanzasca and his crew go from petty incidents to robbing banks, killing cops, and kidnapping the rich. Repeatedly imprisoned for his actions, he becomes a master of manipulation as well as escape. Because of the notoriety of his actions and his poster boy good looks, Vallanzasca evolves into a Milanese media sensation. Young girls and lonely hearts even write him love letters. Of course, with rival gangs and internal traitors to deal with, Vallanzasca is destined to clash, not conform. But from his early days of debauchery to this most recent prison stint (four consecutive life sentences), it seems he is destined to be more myth than man.
Both episodic in feel and slight in comparison to likeminded films, Angel of Evil hopes to delve deeply into the mind of its criminal protagonist. It hopes we settle in for the vignette oriented approach, watching as each sequence adds a layer to the eventual doomed life our leading man will enjoy. As a result, this becomes a movie of events rather than true insights. And since nothing offered in these incidents becomes the stuff of psychological detail, we feel stymied. Because it plays with conventions we know by heart, Angel of Evil is hindered by comparison. Many critics have even contrasted it against the French film Mesrine (not favorably, by the way) and that's really not fair. The filmmaking approach is different, as are the ideas director Michele Placido is attempting to get across. For him, Vallanzasca represents the real value in crime. It may not pay, but it pretends to be a pal most of the time. Like most aspects of life, lawlessness if just a passing phase, one that leads to other, equally unusual elements.
There is a lot to enjoy here, as long as one thinks beyond what's on screen. The early sequences show us little of Vallanzasca's actual childhood, his mother playing the part of martyr quite well -- but that's all. Once we get to the '70s, things pick up a bit, even if it all feels like leftovers from a Brian DePalma pitch for the era. Perhaps the most intriguing bits center around Vallanzasca's many escape attempts. He even swallows a nail so that he can be sent to the infirmary. Yet we never pass beneath the surface of this villain. He's all slick superficial splash, if little else. The montage heavy third act, which gives itself away with its numerous music video nods, doesn't lend credence to the conflicts. By the time we learn of his lasting fate, we have long since stopped caring about Vallanzasca's as a character. Indeed, the biggest flaw in Angel of Evil is the notion that iconography can pass for specificity. He may look the part, but this is one bravura bandit who lacks depth and drama.
As part of its promotional strategy, Fox has sent DVD Verdict a screener of this title. While the bonus features will supposedly included a Behind the Scenes featurette and a collection of deleted and extended scenes, it's impossible to grade the actual technical specifications. Check discs typically do not contain final visual and sonic cues, and there are often watermarks fashioned over the image. As a result, no mention will be made of the 2.35:1 widescreen transfer or the Dolby 5.1 audio mix. Both have issues -- pixelating, lack of decent separation -- that mandate this approach. The Verdict just doesn't know what the final package looks or sounds like. Buyers of the actual product will just have to...beware.
For all its above board acting and splatterific gore (this film can be very violent at times), Angel of Evil is also limited in scope. It wants to celebrate a true antihero, someone who terrified society as much as he intrigued it. For Renato Vallanzasca, being a murderer and a thief was just indulging in his unusually "dark" side of his personality. Sadly, for a story like this to match up against its genre betters, we need much more than such a middling explanation.
Visiting hours are over.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Italian)
Running Time: 128 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Extended/Deleted Scenes