Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #556
Number of Views: One
Release Date: June 25, 2009
Country of Origin: United States, United Kingdom, Spain, Italy
Running Time: 92 minutes
Director: Dario Argento
Producers: Adrien Brody, Rafael Primorac, Richard Rionda Del Castro
Screenplay: Jim Agnew, Sean Keller, Dario Argento
Special Effects: Sergio Stivaletti
Cinematography: Frederic Fasano
Score: Marco Werba
Editing: Roberto Silvi
Studios: Giallo Production, Footprint Investment Fund, Media Films, Opera Film Produzione
Distributor: Hannibal Pictures
Stars: Adrien Brody, Emmanuelle Seigner, Elsa Pataky, Robert Miano, Valentina Izumi, Sato Oi, Luis Molteni, Taiyo Yamanouchi, Daniela Fazzolari, Nicolò Morselli
Suggested Audio Candy
Marco Werba “Giallo”
Increasingly of late, I seem to be spending a fair share of my time sticking up for Dario Argento. Having recently placed both Mother of Tears and Dracula 3D under the microscope, I guess it is no more than should be expected. While I don’t wish to harp on once again about how his most recent works are unjustly regarded as little more than shelf-fillers, I can’t possibly begin my appraisal for Giallo without first dealing with the elephant in the room. You see, while the aforementioned have had their fair share of scathing remarks to deal with, this particular work is universally regarded as an outright dud and lacking any sort of merit whatsoever.
When Giallo was released in 2009, it would be fair to say that knives were already drawn and not looking to cut him any slack. However, the critical mauling it received was so utterly unanimous that the old gem “there’s no smoke without fire” felt worryingly applicable. When you consider this film placed him right back in his comfort zone, I couldn’t begin to fathom where it all went wrong. After all, Sleepless proved that he still has a firm handle on giallo and it’s not like he hasn’t had sufficient field experience to churn out another winner. It just didn’t make sense to me. Thus, I decided to let the dust settle and approach this with an uncluttered mind, so as not to fall into the trap of judging it unfairly.
Having finally granted Giallo the same time I would any movie, regardless of origin or names attached, I’m relieved to report that it is nothing like the travesty many have labelled it as. Don’t get me wrong, I have my issues with it and will get to each of these in turn, but having been led to believe that it was an out-and-out turkey, I can state with assurance that you can put away that stuffing as you won’t be needing it here. Unfortunately, it appears that some folk just can’t apply perspective when necessary and it grows tiresome listening to so-called horror buffs laying into our most prized assets on account of an inability to leave the past where it should be and accept that both times and people change.
Like Sleepless before it, Giallo chooses Turin as its setting and starts out like any giallo worth its salt – with a typically stylish set-piece of course. However, whereas ordinarily the body count rises a notch at this early juncture, this time abduction is preferred to obliteration. Our opening smash-and-grab plays out during a seemingly innocuous cab ride and involves an Asian tourist on her way home from a night on the tiles. With the smell of burning rubber still in our nostrils, the treacherous taxi driver strikes again. This time, stunning American model Celine (Elsa Pataky) is the unfortunate party and is swiftly taken back to the same undisclosed location where his primary quarry is holed-up.
Smelling a rat in less than a New York minute, her flight attendant sister Linda (Emmanuelle Seigner) decides to report Celine’s disappearance at the local precinct and gets little joy from the dismissive desk sergeant. However, Linda’s not the kind of woman to give up easily and her persistence is eventually rewarded as she prises out the whereabouts of somebody who may give more of a hoot. Such a dogged detective can only be based in the basement. To crack this case, she will need the kind of workaholic that lives on fast food and never sleeps unless it’s upright in his leather recliner, surrounded by clues and case studies.
Thankfully, she seems to have made her own luck as she enters the sub-basement and is presented with slender-faced F.B.I. Inspector Enzo Avolfi (Adrien Brody) as her sole-savior. Enzo is one of life’s obsessive compulsives and takes his work as seriously as he does his take-away pizza and smokes. Considering he lights one up every time there’s a pause in conversation, we’re pretty sure that this is our guy and Linda’s problem is about to be both shared and halved. To begin with, he is arrogant and seems disinterested in her plight. However, a few puffs later, the required receptors have been fed, and he agrees to let her tag along. You know, like when you visit the butcher’s and he invites you behind the counter to assist him in dismantling a swine with his secondary meat cleaver. That kind of deal. Joking aside, remember it’s just a movie Grueheads, roll with the punches, and you’ll be just fine. Our two leads will make sure of that.
Enzo and his new deputy Linda head off to act on any hunches that spring up and it isn’t long before their target supplies them their trail. Not simply content with snatching ladies from the streets and strapping them to gurneys indefinitely, he gets bored with his playthings in no time and, when this happens, it’s time for a dash of mutilation, followed by a one-way fare to the nearest public drop-off. Memories fade but a photograph is forever so each stiff is steamrolled into smiling for camera for the purpose of any late-night monkey spanking before logging off of YouPorn and grabbing some much-needed beauty sleep.
Have I not yet mentioned our sicko’s identity? Apologies for hanging it out but I’m going to do the decidedly un-giallo thing of putting a face to the name “Yellow” (which giallo directly translates to in Italian). Time to open an uncharacteristic can of whoop I’m afraid. While I’m happy for the mystery element to be lifted at such an early juncture as a refreshing change to the obligatory final act Scooby Doo reveal, I’m not so enthused with the personnel on this occasion. It’s Brody you see, albeit under the pseudonym Byron Deidra. However, it’s not just the fact that our agent is doubling up on his responsibilities or that he does a bad job portraying “Yellow” either. My grievance is with his jaundiced make-up.
Allow me to elaborate further. There’s this guy, Leigh Francis is his name but he works under the alias Keith Lemon, and he really makes my blood boil. This irritant has inexplicably risen to fame in the United Kingdom over the past decade and it is no longer safe to channel hop for fear of accidentally tuning into one of his inane panel shows. Back when he was starting out, Francis had a sketch show by the name of Bo’ Selecta! Unfortunately for “Yellow”, our killer bears an uncanny resemblance to its titular character and that pretty much snuffed out any hopes of him eliciting fear. Granted, my gripe is purely personal and may not be an issue to many but it certainly didn’t help his cause.
Mercifully, we spend the majority of our time with Enzo and Linda as they gradually close in on their target. Both Brody and Seigner acquit themselves well although interestingly our hard-boiled detective isn’t quite the hot-shot he claims to be. Most of the leg work is done by his inexperienced partner and he’s more than happy just to claim credit for her frequent lightbulb moments.
Meanwhile, we are provided with a flashback to back up his obsession with police work and this adds a dash of welcome depth to the character. Unfortunately, it ended in tears for Brody as the actor later sued the production for not being paid his full fee and this drama overshadowed the film itself as well as hindering its release.
Giallo is an odd little movie. Once it concludes (with a final revelation that continues for a shot too long), it is likely that your initial emotion will be one of being distinctly underwhelmed. However, this is where I believe many critics missed its trick. Writing this appraisal, I can’t shake the urge to view it a second time and that is because I feel that I approached it the wrong way, despite any gallant attempts to give it a fair shot. Jim Agnew and Sean Keller penned the screenplay specifically for Argento and it is my belief that they knew exactly what they were doing when they put pen to paper. It is chock-full of irony and self referential humor, and perhaps works best as a deconstruction of giallo and, dare I say, parody than anything else.
For all its flaws, 92 minutes never once feels like a chore to sit through. Frederic Fasano’s slick photography is more than up-to-par, Argento trademarks such as the ruination of beauty and the barbarous murder scenes he has become known for are present and correct, and revealing the identity of the villain so early on makes a novel change from the usual closing act penny drop. Giallo may not represent the Italian at the top of his game and it would be foolhardy of me to suggest otherwise. However, charm counts for rather a lot with a film such as this and that is one department where it most certainly isn’t jaundiced.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: While Giallo doesn’t supply the kind of bloodbath that we have become accustomed to over the years from the Italian, it does have its moments and one scene in particular may well have you biting your lips nervously. Argento may not keep Sergio Stivaletti all that busy on this occasion but, when called upon, he comes up with the grisly goods. Another department strangely lacking is the obligatory bare flesh, particularly given our killer’s leanings towards sexual deviancy. Perhaps if his daughter Asia hadn’t been pregnant at the time of shooting and been forced to decline Seigner’s role, he would have been a little more magnanimous on this front.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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