Wednesday, October 27, 2010

One A Week Reviews #49: Giallo

Getting my hands on a new Dario Argento film is always a fraught thing. The candy-colored fever dreams that got me hooked on Euro-Horrors like Suspiria and Phenomena (Creepers), are a far cry from the more drab and cruel affairs of his later work. None of that lavish visual flair remains- a victim of budgets, I'd assume- though the twisted, nonsensical plots remain. The Card Player was a blunt hammer of a film and Mother of Tears was a surprisingly stomach-churning near-miss. Argento's Masters of Horror offerings, Pelts and Jenifer, were so mean and grisly as to be almost unwatchable. Giallo is a supposed return to Argento's thriller roots and was long-awaited by many a fan, though it wound up not being released to much... fanfare.

The trademark Argento shots of the killer's hands are heavily featured, as is the flashbacks that seem an integral part to many of his films. The film is creatively, crisply shot, but that visual glory is a thing of the past. It's a handsome movie, cold and cruel, though the sound is oddly flat. At least the voices, some background ones dubbed English, don't jump out so badly now that every line isn't looped. There's a visual stunt, a close-up of an injection into a tongue, that's the kind of touch reminiscent of his older work.

Adrien Brody stars (recently in the news because evidently he didn't get paid for the film), in his best late-career Al Pacino impression, as Enzo, an American detective in Italy. He chooses a vocal affectation here, a bit of a clipped New York accent, that is so muttered it's almost harder to understand than those who speak English here as a second language. The Spanish Elsa Pataky is a fashion model kidnapped by a mad killer and the French Emmanuelle Seigner is her flight attendant sister, teaming up with Brody to try and find her before it's too late. Sadly, Pataky mostly just gets to whimper and scream here. A shame as I enjoyed her in Beyond Re-Animator. Seigner is still stunning to look at, though she's traded in dewy freshness for formidable maturity.

Pretty standard plot all around. A thin one, really. It should always be so easy to catch a criminal. Brody and Seigner chase down clues and victims trying to find the "yellow" man. (Giallo is, for the uninitiated, the term for the genre films of the Seventies and so-named because the lurid thriller novels of the time all had yellow covers.) I'm not sure why we need a flashback to the Yellow man's childhood. It's unforgivably hokey. The flashbacks to Enzo's childhood shock in violence. This is the character who, in real life, is more likely to become the crazy killer.

The other problem with the Yellow man, and this isn't a spoiler, is he's obviously played by Brody under some not-very convincing makeup. I assume the appeal of working for Argento and getting to play a dual role is what recruited him to this film, and he's clearly laboring here, but Brody doesn't seem to be having much of a good time here. The Yellow man is a collection of noises and ticks, all exaggerated.

The mystery and suspense are decompressed here and, while the pace doesn't dawdle, the goings are pretty slow. In the end, Giallo is worth it for the Argento fan, but it's doubtful it'll create new converts.

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