Angel of Evil (Vallanzasca): Film Review

Michele Placido is not going to be squelching any of the controversy that preceded "Vallanzasca," his biopic on infamous bank robber and lady killer (figuratively speaking) Renato Vallanzasca.

VENICE -- Michele Placido is not going to be squelching any of the controversy that preceded Vallanzasca, his biopic on infamous bank robber and lady killer (figuratively speaking) Renato Vallanzasca.

One of Italy's most notorious criminals, the man is serving four life sentences for armed robbery and the murder of several police officers, whose families tried to stop the project they felt was disrespectful toward the victims.

Vallanzasca tackles its subject with the same kind of hip visual energy, snappy editing and tour-de-force acting that made Placido's 2005 Romanzo Criminale -- also known as Kings of Crime and Crime Novel internationally -- a sleeper hit in France and England as well as a success at home, where it has spawned an award-winning TV series.

In fact, this new film is like Romanzo Criminale, but set in Milan rather than Rome, and about one handsome outlaw (played by Kim Rossi Stuart, who also starred in Romanzo Criminale) rather than four. Which is great for drawing initial audiences, though whether they buy a repeat of the first film remains to be seen.

During the 1970s, Vallanzasca's Banda della Comasina became one of the most ferocious gangs in Milan and inched its way into the territory run by rival Francis Turatello (Francesco Scianna, showing much more range that in his lead turn in Giuseppe Tornatore's Baaria). Drunk on its power, the gang branched out into kidnapping prominent members of wealthy families and, of course, blew money on lots of sex and blow.

The film glosses over Vallanzasca's childhood in Milan, which the character says wasn't a bad one -- it's just that he liked petty crime even as a kid. The juicy bits starts in 1972, with the hold-up of a supermarket that landed the 21-year-old Vallanzasca a jail sentence, the first of many.

That led to the first of many notorious prison escapes and a devoted following of women from throughout Italy. He even got married twice while in jail, the last time in 2005. (But this is a guy movie, so the women have tiny parts.)

Placido shows few of the many crazy stunts Vallanzasca pulled in his endless attempts to escape jail. In one, he swallows nails to get himself sent to a hospital, where he bribes a cop to let him go. In short, Vallanzasca stopped at nothing to get his freedom. Once free, he couldn't be stopped from feeding his habit of stealing.

Vallanzasca wants to show that the man wasn't all that bad in the beginning, in his own words, "a good guy with a pronounced dark side." The first officer apparently was not killed by Vallanzasca, but he took the rap for one of his friends.

The film was written by five writers, including Placido and Rossi Stuart, who get first and separate billing. It's obvious that Rossi Stuart threw himself into this role, perhaps his best performance yet, which says a lot about this actor who just keeps getting better with age. He embodies Vallanzasca's legendary arrogance well -- though at moments too well. Not that the criminal wasn't determined, but sometimes it's hard to understand just where his self-destructive doggedness comes from.

With all due respect to the gang's victims, Vallanzasca is the kind of film in which you root for the bad guys -- we only see their point of view -- even when they're killing cops because they're sexy, dangerous and played by top actors. Filippo Timo, who plays Vallanzasca's unhinged, childhood friend Enzo, is set to become the full-blown star in cinema that he is in theater. Moritz Bleibtreu says about 10 lines in the movie but is riveting.

Venue: Venice Film Festival (Out of Competition)
Production companies: Cosmo Production, 21st Century Fox Italia, Babe Film
Cast: Kim Rossi Stuart, Filippo Timi, Moritz Bleibtreu, Valeria Solarino, Paz Vega, Francesco Scianna, Gaetano Bruno.
Director: Michele Placido
Screenwriters: Kim Rossi Stuart, Michele Placido, Antonio Leotti, Toni Trupia, Andrea Leanza, Antonella D'Agostino
Producers: Elide Melli
Director of photography: Arnaldo Catinari
Production designer: Tonino Zera
Music: Negramaro
Costume designer: Roberto Chiocchi
Editor: Consuelo Catucci
Sales: Fortissimo Films
No rating, 208 minutes

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