Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Film Review: GIALLO (2010, Dario Argento)

Stars: 3.25 of 5.
Running Time: 92 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Adrien Brody (THE THIN RED LINE, THE PIANIST), Elsa Pataky (Brody's current girlfriend, acted in SNAKES ON A PLANE, BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR), Emmanuelle Seigner (Polanski's wife, acted in THE NINTH GATE, THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY), Robert Miano (FIRESTARTER, CHINA GIRL). Cinematography by Frederic Fasano (SCARLET DIVA, MOTHER OF TEARS).
Tag-line: "Oscar Winner Adrien Brody."
Best one-liner: "You so selfish! Asshole!"

As a Dario Argento fan, it pained me to hear all of the negative buzz about his latest flick, GIALLO. All I want is a return to form– artful murders bathed in colored light and set to thrumpin' beats by Goblin. That's all I want. Instead, it seemed we had another CARD PLAYER on our hands. But now, having seen GIALLO, I am pleased to report that it is way better than the ramshackle shitstorm of derivative torture porn which haunted my most pessimistic nightmares. I'm not sure we can call it good, per se, but we sure can't call it 'horrible,' and that, my friends, is a latter-day Argento victory! Pass the Campari!

There's a lot of, shall we say, questionable material in GIALLO, but I think it's fair to say that there's been something a little cockeyed about every Argento film since TRAUMA, and some would argue that things have been a little off for even longer. For the benefit of the readers who would like this article to have a happy ending, I'll tackle the bad before I tackle the good.

Now, for starters, it's not even a giallo. GIALLO is not a giallo. Let that sink in for a minute. In fact, the title refers to the killer's jaundiced skin ('giallo' is the Italian word for 'yellow'). There're no black gloves, no intricate mystery as to the killer's identity, no artfully constructed murder sequences. Instead, the killer drives a white minivan taxi, wears a hoodie, and tortures and kills his victims in a dingy basement without the benefit of a vivid color pallette or Italo disco.

The soundtrack isn't even done by Claudio Simonetti, who's usually happy to disavow his own trademark style and go the poor man's Hollywood route. Instead, it was scored by a man named Marco Werba, and it sounds like the bastard child of Bernard Herrmann and Danny Elfman. That in and of itself is not a bad thing, but in the context of Argento- known for his morbidly thrilling soundscapes- it's weak.
The opening credits are done in that "twentieth generation rip-off of SE7EN" style that I love so much, complete with jittery, out of focus jumps and a wonky exposure.

How gritty, how authentic! Maybe they should have named the movie GI@LLO or something.

And here's something I never needed to see in an Argento movie-




Well, now that that's out of the way- on to the good. Much like DEATH WISH V: THE FACE OF DEATH, Argento boldy chooses to open his film at a fashion show.

While I certainly prefer the Euro-sleaze of the 70's and 80's (NEW YORK RIPPER, et al.), this'll do, Dario. This'll do.

The killer (played by newcomer "Byron Deidra"...), despite being conceptually hackneyed, is fairly creepy in execution. This scene finds him, um, apparently jerkin' the turkey to some torture photographs he's taken. Note the pacifier.

That pacifier is clearly the one extra push that the scene needed. Of course, this all ties into a childhood trauma, a favorite subject of Argento's.

And what have we here?

Asia Argento dropped out of GIALLO back when it was supposed to star Vincent Gallo, but at least she's around in spirit for a pictorial cameo.

Adrien Brody, our lead and co-producer (who's now suing the production), delivers a solid performance. He's taking things very seriously, which is the way things ought to be taken in an Argento movie. If we'd got some annoying American actor in here playing it for laffs, we'd be missing out on the sincerely surreal moments that naturally emanate from an Argento picture. I.e., at one point he earnestly explains that, as a cop, "my methods aren't exactly by the book."

As he is introduced, the camera pans across his desk, past a New York-style pizza, a baseball, a bat, and a carefully draped jacket with visible text which reports, "F.B.I. Special New York City Department."

In walks our heroine (Emmanuelle Seigner), who immediately asks the question which is burning at the forefront of all our minds: "Are you from New York?"

Emmanuelle Seigner is, as always, pretty amusing and possibly drunk.

[Insert catty comment about the quality of THE NINTH GATE here.]
At one point, she gets to scream "You so selfish! Asshole! ASSHOLE!"

That kinda stuff has always been worth the price of admission for me, but keep in mind that rave is from the guy who gave five stars to MURDER ROCK. But if you draw no satisfaction from Adrien Brody somberly announcing "GOTCHA, YOU YELLOW FUCK..." than maybe you shouldn't be watching Argento movies in the first place.

The body count's low, the gore's not entertaining, the music's off, and the aesthetics are ill-advised, but there's an abrupt freeze-frame ending, in true Argento fashion. Thank God for small favors.

In the end, I have to give it a touch over three stars. And though I loathe to use "not as bad as I expected" as a form of praise, I think that it's applicable here. Though it tries for 'generic, overproduced, Hollywood-lite torture porn,' enough of Argento's wonderful eccentricities shine through to make it worth it for his fans. And even non-Argento fans may find themselves pursing their lips, half-nodding, and muttering to themselves, "that was sort of a decent police procedural."

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

Yeah, I had been wondering about this one. I actually thoroughly enjoyed MOTHER OF TEARS and the prospect of Adrien Brody and Mrs. Polanski in a Argento film has my curiousity piqued. I think I'll give it a go. Thanks!

Sean Gill said...

Yeah, I thought MOTHER OF TEARS was great- not nearly in the same way a SUSPIRIA or DEEP RED, but with the same kind of loopily macabre energy, I guess. (Just not the same aesthetics- damn!) As I said, there's certainly a few things to hate here, but there's a lot to like, and I find it hard to believe that he disowned this cut (especially given that he proudly kept his name on THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and THE CARD PLAYER).

J.D. said...

Well, something hinky was going on with this film as Brody is now suing the producers. Shame, as it could have been a great film not a compromised one.