Italy has encountered many a controversial crumbling of power, between the fall of Rome, the downturn of Caesar, its once foolish economy, and families with too much power. Director Ridley Scott can now claim he’s captured a second of these scenarios on screen with a fragmented, epic eye. And at year’s end, he’s easily 1-1 with his true life revenge sagas. One disaster in The Last Duel, a surprisingly decent, though troubled piece of cinema in House of Gucci, delving into the famous fashion dynasty’s story with grace and ferocity. Anything else and it wouldn’t be anywhere near fitting, nor would its abhorrently lengthy runtime have been justified.
Given the source material, a nonfiction novel by Sara Gay Forden, ran nearly 400 pages, a 150 minute-plus runtime should be plenty to cover two decades of history. Becky Johnston (Seven Years in Tibet) and Roberto Bentivegna’s screenplay opens up in late 70s Milan, the Guccis were a household name with the upper-class elite. Eldest son Maurizio (Adam Driver) was never one to fully invest his time or energy with the family business, settling for a steady lawyer gig. Upon a chance encounter with trucking company heiress Patrizia Regianni (Lady Gaga) in a nightclub, their romance evolves into a marriage, then into a firm professional association whose claws dig deep in the name of greed and toxic authority.
After the sparks fly, the harsh words slice like a cleaver to pot roast. Scott makes it all seem effortless, burying himself in the kind of soap opera tawdriness only a captive ensemble can reinforce. And for Miss Gaga, it’s a way to further hone her acting craft, building on top of her Star is Born momentum, with brash accent adequately controlled. I repeat, adequately, when factoring in some small backlash. The broad family she willingly married into, and would ultimately bleed like an orange has a tall order to fill. Needless to say, Driver might be the sanest grape on the vine, even without it stepping beyond familiar territory for his performance range.
Compared to his old school elders, dad Rodolfo (a rambunctious Jeremy Irons) and uncle Aldo (a cocky, full-throated Al Pacino), Driver’s Maurizio is the pencil-shaped geek wanting to blaze his own path. But falling for Patrizia comes with a prerequisite, either make up and play nice, or overthrow. Encouraged by an open-minded psychic (Salma Hayek) whose advice may not be properly accredited, her masked rage propels a plan in motion to achieve an overdue comeuppance. That dynamic alone does make Patrizia growingly ravenous as time goes, and Maurizio more silly than deceitful. Aspects of both crowd his psyche, albeit unbalanced.
The infighting devolves from that point forward, and cousin Paulo (Jared Leto) does not help one bit. He’s a bigger black sheep, village idiot, anti-hero resorting to under-the-table dealings to showcase his specialty designs. And it hardly goes to plan, despite his best efforts. With that thick makeup and bald cap on, showcasing the Oscar-worthy work of designers Jana Carboni (Infinite) and Göran Lundström (Coming 2 America), you could forget you were watching Leto envelop himself in another character with extremely loose morals. Cheesy drawl notwithstanding, he’s dripping with sleaze and Scott latches on to Leto’s energy to boost what, at times, amounted to dry comedy.
To find myself laughing was unexpected, but it proves how much absurdity Ridley was tasked to play with. It harkened me back to similar degrees of corporate ineptitude found in Parasite or, even more obscurely, Soapdish. Cut from similar threads of cloth, though no less brave to steer a fresh course of direction. And somehow, Ridley attempting to poke holes at this family’s already weak defenses? That is Gucci’s saving grace, narrowly escaping crippling tedium. Remove the mockery, and all we’d have is an exercise in lengthy boredom. It doesn’t quite fire up every cylinder, its pace like molasses. It’s almost like a theatrical play whose attention to detail may prove no equal. Between Leto’s face job, and the unified visual palette work of frequent Ridley collaborators Arthur Max, Darius Wolski, and Janty Yates on costumes, nothing could be overlooked, even if they tried to shortcut through.
There may have been plenty to speed past, as Scott’s focus never stops at one idea for too long. Again, a side effect of not having better editing in one’s arsenal. Not that editor Claire Simpson (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) doesn’t maintain sharp skill in flowing from one plotline to another, there were moments when it clashed in the wrong way. That does hinder whatever romantic impact Driver and Gaga possess with their on screen chemistry (imprudent sex scenes included), so too for Maurizio’s affair with model Paola Franchi (Camille Cottin), whose presence we barely scratch the surface on. The three hit an even harder well with Leto’s meddling; as much of a delight as he was, his aim for distraction deviated at the worst time.
Ultimately, had House of Gucci reached its point of interest more effectively, excised about thirty minutes, and carried a tighter organizational structure, I’d have been more willing to forgive the faults which emerge in being lengthy and complex like it is. For its three main leads, their character talents are well exhibited, even if they’re all masked behind period accurate wigs and jowls. But they face a tough minefield of an uneven story, still squeaking by on merits of good faith and a candid sense of humor. I can at least say Ridley remains capable of crafting a fun dramedy worth spending an afternoon on, responding back after an ashamedly boring crusades tale. His eye for Shakespearean tragedy craves refinement, all the same. (C+; 3/5 Horns Up!)
House of Gucci arrives in theaters November 24; rated R for language, some sexual content, brief nudity, and violence; 157 minutes.