First Run Features // 2007 // 92 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // February 19th, 2008
Fighting the Mafia in Sicily.
I think it's pretty safe to say that most of what we know about the Mafia, we learned from films such as The Godfather, Goodfellas, or The Sopranos. But that doesn't necessarily mean we learned the truth. Marco Turco's poignant documentary Excellent Cadavers moves away from the dramatic Hollywood story lines and focuses on the real wrongdoings of hundreds of Mafiosi, emphasizing how devastating organized crime can really be.
Based on the book by journalist Alexander Stille, the film chronicles the bitter war between Italian prosecutors and the Sicilian Cosa Nostra during the 1980s, culminating in the massive Maxi Trial in 1986, during which more than 300 defendants were convicted for crimes directly related to the Mafia.
So what is Excellent Cadavers really about? Primarily, the film focuses on the Mafia's destructive impact on the city of Palermo in Sicily. Director Marco Turco and Alexander Stille also zoom in on the work of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, two anti-Mafia magistrates who struggled to identify and convict hundreds of members of the Mob. Both men were brutally murdered in 1992, just a few months apart. Turco's film shows to what extent the Mafia prefers to speak to the world through its ruthless actions. After Falcone and Borsellino got closer to hunting down select Mafiosi, key defendants started turning up dead at nearly every street corner. Consequently, the Palermo anti-Mafia pool quickly launched an offense against influential Mafia bosses, which eventually lead to the outbreak of murder and chaos. During the big trial in 1986, members of the Cosa Nostra had to be escorted by eight police officers. Prosecutors had to prepare for the trial behind bars, for their own protection. The secret operations of the Mafia were unscrupulous and unforeseeable. It could have hit anybody, anywhere, anytime.
Narrated by Stille, the film accompanies him on a trip to Palermo, where he gathers a horde of information from documents and pictures in local libraries. Stille also interviews Letizia Battaglia, a skilled photographer who has depicted the Mafia's violent actions for many years. Excellent Cadavers also includes captivating archived footage from television newscasts and interviews with Falcone and Borsellino. It also features utterly shocking black-and-white photographs of numerous killings. These powerful images not only show corpses, but they also illustrate the ruthlessness of the Mafiosi and depict their brutal methods of consistently eliminating their opponents. Mixed all together, Turco's documentary offers a large variety of interesting and informative material on Falcone's and Borsellino's war against the Mafia in the '80s.
All in all, Excellent Cadavers covers a wide array of topics related to this turbulent period in Sicily. While Stille's narration is clear and easy to follow, the amount of information may be a little but big for a film that runs for only 92 minutes. Turco and Stille jump right into the conflict between Falcone and the Cosa Nostra, leaving only little time to add valuable background information about the origin of organizes crime in Palermo. The film challenges its viewers to think about the material and not lose focus. Missing five minutes could devastate your understanding of the rest of the movie. This, however, does not mean Excellent Cadavers is not enjoyable. On the contrary, if you are interested in finding out more about the real Mafia's impact on Italy's politics and its threat to civilians, chances are you will quickly be hooked by the large amount of information. It's truly an eye-opening experience.
The original footage from the '80s does not look as sharp as we may expect, but the material is preserved well enough and the overall quality of the picture on the disc is excellent. The same applies to the sound. The audio transfer is clean and provides a solid balance between new interviews and the archived footage. Stille's narration is in English but everything else is in Italian. English subtitles are provided.
While the film offers an incredible amount of material that sometimes makes it hard to follow, Turco could have included some background information on the key characters in the documentary, or maybe a timetable outlining the war against the Sicilian Mafia. Instead, the bonus material on the disc only offers a tiny photo gallery of the gruesome images already included in the feature, and two short biographies of Turco and Stille.
Even though Excellent Cadavers doesn't retell the whole history of the Mafia, the film will definitely pique your interest in its subject matter. It's an essential documentary, if you even want to begin to understand the complexity of organized crime in Italy and around the world. Just make sure to keep that brain awake. You'll need it.
The Mafia may be guilty, but this film is most certainly not.
Review content copyright © 2008 Franck Tabouring; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Italian)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery