Crime Novel

English Title: Crime Novel

Original Title: Romanzo criminale

Country of Origin: Italy

Studio: Cattleya/Babe/Warner Bros

Director: Michele Placido

Producer(s): Marco Chimenz, Giovanni Stabilini, Riccardo Tozzi

Screenplay: Sandro Petraglia, Stefano Rulli

Cinematographer: Luca Bigazzi

Art Director: Paola Comencini

Editor: Esmeralda Calabria

Runtime: 154 minutes

Genre: Crime drama

Starring/Cast: Stefano Accorsi, Pierfrancesco Favino, Claudio Santamaria, Riccardo Scamarcio, Kim Rossi Stuart

Year: 2005

Volume: Italian

The film traces the rise and fall of the real-life 1970s Roman criminal gang, the ‘Banda della Magliana’, as they wipe out their enemies to dominate the drug market in Rome, form connections with the Sicilian mafia, and even become involved in two of the most shocking terrorist-related events of the 1970s in Italy, the kidnapping of Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro in 1978 and the bombing of Bologna train station in 1980. The detective leading the investigation into their activities, Scialoja, becomes romantically involved with the prostitute girlfriend of Dandi, one of the gang. The relationship between another member, Il Freddo, and his demure new girlfriend creates tensions within the group, tensions fatally exacerbated by their new-found wealth and decadent lifestyles.

Adapted from the successful 2002 novel by Giancarlo De Cataldo of the same title, Romanzo criminale, the story of the real-life Banda della Magliana in 1970s Rome, is a distinctive generic hybrid, bringing together influences of the Italian-American gangster films of Scorsese and Coppola with those of the poliziesco (the Italian 1970s crime thriller ‘B’ movie). For non-Italian audiences, the film’s references to the kidnapping of Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro, and the Bologna train station bombing may be perplexing, and the film deliberately never makes entirely clear the connection between these events and the gang’s activities. However, it is this rooting of the film in the Italian political landscape of the period that makes it so distinctive: the film’s retro visual appeal involves stylish costumes and production design, as well as a soundtrack of Italian and American pop music, occasionally used in a disorienting, ‘Tarantino-esque’ fashion, such as when Labelle’s ‘Lady Marmalade’ is juxtaposed with archive footage of Moro being held by the Red Brigades.

Another interesting feature of the film is its casting: it brings together an ensemble cast of Italy’s leading male actors of the time. The creepy detective, Scialoja, is played by Stefano Accorsi, then Italian cinema’s main heartthrob, and he is reunited on screen with Piefrancesco Favino (Lebanese) and Claudio Santamaria (Dandi), who had appeared together in the 2001 hit romantic drama L’ultimo bacio/The Last Kiss (Gabriele Muccino). Although Favino garnered most praise from critics for his muscular performance, it was Riccardo Scamarcio as Il Nero who went on to greatest success, and in retrospect this can be seen as a key role in Scamarcio’s move from lightweight romantic hero to serious protagonist of middlebrow political drama. Kim Rossi Stuart as Il Freddo rounds out the male cast, and it is his romantic plotline that undermines the film’s homosocial dynamic. As is typical of the genre (whether the Hollywood gangster picture or the Italian poliziesco), women feature only marginally, and as either virginal heroines or whores. This homosocial dynamic is familiar in the work of screenwriters Stefano Rulli and Sandro Petraglia, writers of much contemporary middlebrow Italian drama.

Placido’s montage-driven, fast-paced style secured the film international distribution, and the film’s success spawned an equally popular TV series in Italy, produced by Sky Italia, of which a second series began in late 2010.

Author of this review: Catherine O’Rawe