‘The Millionaires’ (‘I Milionari’): Rome Review

Milionari Millionares Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Rome Film Festival

Milionari Millionares Still - H 2014

A generic Mafioso epic with no bark, bite or box office potential outside Italy

Director Alessandro Piva premiered his Neopolitan gangster chronicle at the Rome Film Fest

Italian mob chronicle The Millionaires (I Milionari) is a strikingly retrograde movie that leaves one wondering: Did director Alessandro Piva (Pasta nera) purposely ignore major evolutions to the genre like Matteo Garrone's homeland hit Gomorrah, or else all six seasons of The Sopranos, deciding instead to stop his movie clock a few decades ago – say just around the time when Goodfellas was released? In any case, that’s the feeling this old fashioned and ineffective Mafioso thriller leaves one with, offering up a pseudo-Scorsesian portrait of the Neopolitan crime scene that’s driven by gangsters who have about as much depth as a pizza margherita.

Freely adapting from a book by Luigi Alberto Cannavale and Giacomo Gensisi that's based on real events, Piva – along with co-writers Gensini and Massimo Guadioso – seems to have all the material in front of him for a juicy and gritty drama about one man’s turbulent rise, and inevitable fall, inside the Camorra of Naples.

But from the very first sepia-toned scene, where young Marcello Calvani witnesses his father’s death by what may be the fastest heart attack in cinema history, it’s fairly clear that Piva will be spotlighting easy cliches over anything close to reality. 

Forced to join the mafia along with his three brothers so they can buy back the family home, Calvani (Francesco Scianna) grows up as a gunslinging henchman, eventually ruling a district run by godfather Don Carmine (Gianfranco Gallo). He also weds local beauty, Rosario (Valentina Lodovini), their relationship taking the form of every other mob guy-mob wife affair seen in movies: Rosario doesn’t want to know what Marcello does at work – though she doesn’t seem to mind when he wines and dines her at a restaurant he bought with all his drug money, or else subjects her to vicious rear-entry intercourse after getting out of prison.

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Taking us through the decades as Marcelo – nicknamed “Alendelon” after the French actor (they look nothing alike) – rakes in mounds of cash but never alters his ‘70s blowout hair, Piva tries to find some sort of dramatic arc to a narrative that remains flat despite the high body count. He ultimately opts to include a nemesis named Piranha (Salvatore Striano), who for absurd reasons Marcelo and his accolades can’t seem to bring down, even if they have no problem shooting other people in broad daylight.

But while the chain of events is anticlimactic and often predictable, the real issue with The Millionaires is that the characters – and that especially means Marcelo – fail to radiate any noticeable intelligence on screen. Granted, few people have high opinions of the Camorra, but there’s no way they’ve managed to gain all that power and wealth without a certain level of cunning, and every good gangster movie from The Godfather onwards has shown how much ruse is needed to maintain a criminal empire. (Another major problem here is that Marcelo’s gang seems to operate without any recognizable competition, as if they were the only mobsters working in all of Italy.)

Using boilerplate voiceover (“Life is like a card game. If you play, you must be willing to lose.”) to accompany Marcelo’s 2-hour trajectory, Piva has him narrating the kinds of ups and downs, double-crossings and domestic squabbles that Scorsese peppered throughout Goodfellas. But like a photocopy of a scan of a photograph of a painting, The Millionaires feels like a vaguely recognizable Italian update of the original. The rest is a blur.

Tech credits are pro if nothing new.

Production companies: CRC
Cast: Francesco Scianna, Valentina Lodovini, Carmine Recano, Francesco Di Leva, Salvatore Striano, Gainfranco Gallo
Director: Alessandro Piva
Screenwriters: Massimo Gaudioso, Giacomo Gensini, Alessandro Piva, freely adapted from the book “I Milionari” by Alberto Cannavale and Giacomo Gensini
Producers: Giuseppe Gargiulo, Galliano Juso, Alessandro Piva
Director of photography: Renaud Personnaz
Production designer: Antonio Farina
Editor: Alessandro Piva
Composer: Andrea Farri

No rating, 102 minutes