Movie Review: ‘Black Souls’ (Anime Nere, Italy)

Greetings again from the darkness. Avoiding the flashiness of GOODFELLAS or the complexity of another Italian crime family drama, 2008’s GOMORRAH, this reserved-on-the-surface film from director/co-writer Francesco Munzi takes us to a small rural village located outside of Milan. In fact, this slow-burner has much in common stylistically with the 2010 Aussie gem ANIMAL KINGDOM.

Luigi (Marco Leonardi), Rocco (Peppino Mazzotta), and Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane) are three brothers who have settled into life after the murder of their father by a rival crime family. Luigi is the hands-on leader of the family’s drug business, and even though he thrives on the power and intimidation, he maintains a relatively low profile. Rocco is the behind-the-scenes businessman of the family enterprise. He and his fashion-forward wife live in a swanky Milan apartment and mostly avoid the front lines. Oldest brother Luciano has forsaken the family biz, and instead spends his days farming and working his goats.
Luciano’s commitment to hard work and a straight life have not rubbed off on his son Leo (Giuseppe Fumo) who is drawn to the danger, money and power of his uncles’ business. It’s young Leo’s fool-hearted actions that kickoff a chain of events putting the family smack in the midst of a possible war of mafia families.

This is no guns-blazing thrill ride of violence. Instead it’s the type of movie that features countless scenes of men huddled in small groups mumbling details of the next important deal. Also, crucial are the non-verbal nods and raised eye-brows – signs that are interpreted as calls to action. We also learn that expressing hope someone lives to 100, is not just a personal insult, but such crass behavior that it brings a group dinner to an awkward halt.

Leather jacket abound, and the threat of violence looms over most scenes. However, it’s the subtlety of the conversations and the quiet nature of the leaders that cause the well-meaning, but immature thirst for revenge from Leo to stand out. Until the twist of the final act, the only two moments of violence are almost surgical in their precision, leaving us with the impression that one’s negotiating skills and loyal friends are every bit as crucial to success as one’s expertise with a gun.

Mr. Munzi’s film is very well directed and photographed, and features some terrific acting that generates the tension necessary to drive the story. It’s a nice addition to the crime family genre, even if it’s not at the level of the three mentioned in the opening paragraph above.

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