By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Opening in New York on April 10, this Italian import might be the most realistic looking portrayal of violence in organized crime. Based on the novel by Gioacchino Criaco, writer/director Francesco Munzi and co-writers Maurizio Brauchi and Fabrizio Ruggirello have made a no-frills, never glossy film that has mixture of gut-wrenching moments and scenes that seem to lack some punch. The story and characters do offer audiences some intrigue, but Munzi, in my opinion, downplays style way too much. The result is an interesting movie that feels like something is missing.
In rural Calabria, the Carbone crime family rules, but are now facing some opposition from rival families. Carbone brothers Luigi (Marco Leonardi) and Rocco (Peppino Mazzotta) run an illegal drug trade while their oldest brother Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane) has chosen the quiet life of goat herding. When Luciano’s boisterous son Leonardo (Giuseppe Fumo) angers a rival family, the enemies of the Carbones decide to make their move leading to an eruption of violence after a long period of peace.
The strengths of this movie come from the writing and the enthralling performances of the cast. These two strong elements serve to develop the characters fully and adds to the intrigue of the movie. The story mostly plays out rather predictably, but does have an unexpected surprise. Munzi’s desire to be uber-realistic in his presentation really comes across rather blandly. His film needs some kind of style to make this otherwise typical gangster story stand out from others.
The conclusion also comes as a bit of disappointment as it is rather abrupt and unsatisfying. The ending feels like a cliffhanger, but leaves the feeling that Munzi has no plans whatsoever for a sequel. Ambiguous endings can be rather tricky to pull off. Some filmmakers can succeed, but I feel this one doesn’t work. It left me rather annoyed and frustrated. I would have preferred more closure or at least a stronger hint of where the nonexistent epilogue is heading.
Still, for all its issues and unusual quirks, this movie is definitely worth checking out. The performances by the cast, particularly Leonardi, Ferracane. and Fumo make this film highly watchable and absorbing. The only thing that prevents me from giving this movie a higher rating is what I perceive as dull and bland storytelling. On the other hand, some audiences might have an appreciation for this bare bones approach. Granted, filmmakers such as Michael Bay get too carried away with style and often lack the necessary substance to make their films work overall. This one just has little to no style at all, but has great performances and solid character development. Black Souls opens in NYC on April 10 at the Angelika Film Center and City Cinemas, Cinema 1,2,3 and is scheduled to open nationwide. Go to www.blacksoulsmovie.com for other opening dates and cities.