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A legendary Italian sense of style electrifies 5 Is the Perfect Number (5 e’ il numero perfetto), the film adaptation of Igort’s (née Igor Tuveri) most famous graphic novel. Beyond the thrilling visuals and atmospheric production design, however, there isn’t much emotional payoff in this ironic-nostalgic tale about an aged hit man (Toni Servillo) who comes out of retirement to avenge his son’s death. Comic book fans are bound to flock, in any case, lured by imaginatively rendered details and colors, arch characters lifted from another era and the poetic fantasy of a story about friendship and betrayal, death and rebirth, in a place out of time — a nighttime Naples of the 1970s, where crime lords rule the empty streets.
This is the first film ever directed by the multi-talented Igort, one of Italy’s truly international artists who has earned kudos as a comic book designer, writer and musician over the last 40 years. He ably holds the strong cast together, led by Servillo as the gangster, Carlo Buccirosso as his tired old pal and Valeria Golino as the woman who has never forgotten him. What is lacking is a sense behind the story, or at least that feeling of melancholy which helped Igort’s graphic novel win the book of the year award at the Frankfurt Bookfair in 2003.
For non-comic book readers, the stunning visuals are still a great attraction. The film’s hard-boiled violence and blazing guns are introduced in an opening credits sequence that mocks both James Bond and Philip Marlowe. Then the surreal pleasure continues as graphics turn to live action and Servillo appears on a rainy street in a trench coat and worn black shoes. A hawk-like Dick Tracy nose and a shaved head framing his heavy, humorous eyes give him an odd Bruce Willis look.
This is Peppino Lo Cicero, a straight-shooting foot soldier of the camorra who has retired to private life. His beloved wife is dead (in a flashback to their youth, we see him exterminating her family to steal her as his bride — ah, the good old days) and he now lives with his handsome son Nino, who has followed in his footsteps. He has just bought a fabulous Colt Cobra special for the boy’s birthday. Nino will carry it with him on his last job to kill an eerie young fortune teller who’s ratted on his friends.
It’s Peppino’s old buddy Toto the Butcher (Carlo Buccirosso) who gives him the sad news of Nino’s death, setting in motion a violent and elaborate revenge plot. Peppino prevails on Toto to help him find his son’s killers. Their first stop is to see the boss Don Guarino, whom Nino was working for. Peppino mows him down, forcing Toto to help him shoot their way out of the decrepit old Baroque building Don Guarino called headquarters. The gunfire sounds like firecrackers exploding but against all odds they fight their way to the street.
After the carnage is over, Peppino admits he is “having a ball” shooting people up again — an honest feeling, perhaps, but rather awkward with his son being dead. Likewise, the sudden appearance of a mysterious lady from his past, Rita (Golino), opens up new horizons in Peppino’s dull life, even if the romantic side is played down while the manhunt is on. The casting is practically perfect — not only the choice of the deep Servillo in the main role of a killer with morals all his own, and the deadpan but highly effective Buccirosso as the has-been hitman who answers the call of friendship, but the loyal Golino and the memorable faces of the minor characters.
Eventually, death by death, the avengers close in. During a tense rooftop prisoner exchange with the reptilian boss Don Lava, Peppino finally gets his hands on Nino’s killer. More violence ensues, but Igort saves his final ironic twist for the last scene.
Cinematographer Nicolaj Bruel goes well beyond the two-tone palette of the comic book to emphasize the Neapolitan kitsch of Nicoletta Taranta’s amusing costumes and Nello Giorgetti’s nuanced production design. Enlivening the choreographed shootouts and death falls is a gripping killer score by D-Ross & Startuffo, musical producers from Naples and Paris. However, the music is used so constantly, there are moments when it dazes rather than invigorates.
Production companies: Propaganda Italia, Jean Vigo in association with Rai Cinema, Potemkino, Mact Productions, Cite Films, Nour Films
Cast: Toni Servillo, Valeria Golino, Carlo Buccirosso, Giovanni Ludeno, Lorenzo Lancellotti, Vincenzo Nemolato, Nello Mascia, Emanuele Valenti, Gigio Morra, Marcello Romolo
Director-screenwriter: Igort, based on his graphic novel
Producers: Marina Marzotto, Mattia Oddone, Elda Ferri
Director of photography: Nicolaj Bruel
Production designer: Nello Giorgetti
Costume designer: Nicoletta Taranta
Editors: Esmeralda Calabria, Walter Fasano
Music: D-Ross & Startuffo
Venue: Venice International Film Festival (Venice Days)
World sales: Playtime