“It was a name that sounded so sweet … Synonymous with wealth, style, power. But that name was a curse, too.”
If you’ve ever seen me show up for a movie screening in my sweats and t -shirt, you will know instantly that I’m not going to ever be confused with a person of high fashion. I dress for comfort, and accessorizing usually means I’ve got shoes and socks on. The jargon of the industry is Greek to me, and I guess sometimes it really is. I’ve certainly heard of Gucci, but the extent of that knowledge is along the lines of those famous patterned bags that they sell on the street downtown for $20 with no questions asked. Of course those bags often appear to have misspelled the name, so I know a few folks walking around with a Gutchi on their arm and a Rolax on their wrist. I’m guessing that’s not exactly dressed for fashion. Ridley Scott rides to the rescue. I still can’t tell the bags apart, but I now know a little bit about the famous family that those guys are ripping off.
We meet Maurizio Gucci, played by Adam Driver, having a rather carefree bike ride down an ancient Italian city street. He’s sporting a wide grin, and when a stranger asks if he’s Maurizio Gucci, he affirms his identification, and we are whisked away from the scene. We know something bad probably happened, but Scott’s going to make you wait over two and a half hours to find out just what that happens to have been. Now, if I had been up on my fashion news, I likely would have already known what was going on, but I wasn’t, so the surprise remained intact. Your mileage may vary.
We are taken to a high-class party where our bike-riding character meets an attractive woman named Patrizia, played by Lady Gaga. She doesn’t really belong there. She’s not one of the rich socialites the party catered to, so she’s a kind of party-crasher, and now she’s intrigued by this rather mysterious man. She arranges some “accidental” encounters, and before too long they are dating. Maurizio’s father, Rodolfo Gucci, is played by the gifted Jeremy Irons. Pop is pleased that his son appears to have found a girl to have a little fun about town but is not happy that his son is getting quite serious with someone so out of his station, born on the wrong side of the piazza if you will. We know that’s not going to stop him, and he is disowned by his father and cut off as he marries his little sweetheart. But he’s not completely cut off.
Enter Uncle Adolfo Gucci, played brilliantly by Al Pacino. He’s the man with the real power and control over the Gucci empire. He considers his own son Paolo, played by Jared Leto, to be something of a disappointment, and so he grooms his nephew to be the future of the family business. Sort of the son he never really had. Maurizio takes to the business, and all might have lived happily ever after. The problem is that once Patrizia gets a taste of the expensive life, she can’t be satisfied, so she pushes her husband to be more ambitious and more than a little cutthroat. She pushes him to betray his uncle and cousin and gain control over the company. They use the estranged father and son relationship so that Paolo unwittingly gets his father arrested for tax fraud with the hope that his cousin will allow him freedom to design his own stuff. As soon as Paolo’s usefulness is over, he’s also betrayed. It all backfires on Patrizia, however, when her husband’s eye gets turned by an old girlfriend who is just as ambitious as the driven wife. The family is broken. The company ends up in hands outside the family, and we’re merely left with that early encounter we had forgotten over an hour ago and the expected (for those of you in the know) conclusion of the story. We exit pretty much where we came in, and the result for this reviewer was decidedly mixed.
Look. There’s no question that this is a compelling family with a compelling story. It’s a case where real life follows the classic tragic story that has been told since ancient times. In the hands of Ridley Scott, a story like this can’t help but be a masterpiece, and sometimes it really is. The trouble is that often it is not. The story is too long, and Scott lingers too much on story elements and plots that we pretty much already got. It just appears that there are some themes he really wants to make sure we understand. He lingers too much in the opulence and greed well beyond the point where we get it. It is in these places that the film appears self-indulgent, and I guess if I were Ridley Scott I might say: “I’m Ridley Scott, so why not indulge myself?” But he requires the rest of us to sit and endure these moments, and it brings back memories of the old days when a distant cousin would bring out the slide projector with 17 carousels of slides from his kid’s first communion. It’s not pretty … well, it is rather pretty (the film, not the slides), but you get my meaning.
Where the film shines most is in the performances. Al Pacino has made somewhat of a comeback of late. It’s not that he’s really been gone; it’s just that he hasn’t always chosen the best films. This is his best performance in 20 years. He’s a bright spot in the film and is without doubt the heart of this movie. Jared Leto is almost as good in the Fredo role here. This is one of the more distinct roles for Adam Driver,who has shown a willingness and ability to do any kind of movie, but he’s perfectly cast here. Lady Gaga completely disappears in the part. She was good in A Star Is Born, no doubt. But she wasn’t asked to disappear in that role. It was catered to who she really was, and it fit like a glove. This one doesn’t fit, but she made the right alterations along the way, and within minutes you aren’t thinking about the actress at all. Finally, Jeremy Irons delivers a master class on acting in everything he does. He is that quiet actor who never uses flair when honest bearing will do the job just as well.
Ridley Scott took us all to Italy with his use of amazing locations and fine cinematography. The film looks great with every frame. I guess I can understand his wanting to linger.
The film should do well, and while it won’t stand up there with the likes of Gladiator, Alien, or Blade Runner for me, it’s a film I’m inclined to watch again. The Christmas season appears a really good time for the film, and I suspect timing will play a role in its box office numbers. I’ve spent so much time watching and writing here that I still have to find the time to get my wife a Christmas present. I am going downtown. Anyone got a twenty they could lend me? “Can you keep a secret?”