The Film (4/5)
Ooookay, so how do you talk about a movie that fails on every conceivable level?
We can start with the plot – Salvatore Giuliano (Lambert) is an idealistic Sicilian who wants to deliver his people from poverty and oppression by helping them buy the land that’s being held by the region’s wealthy and elite. He does this by Robin Hooding the rich, but eventually, as his power and influence grows, so does his ego, and he winds up selling out his own ideals and burning bridges until he’s eventually assassinated. I mean that’s the surface, buuuut that’s about all you’re going to be able to walk away with – the surface. Why does he break his own rules? To what end is he being carried away? He doesn’t start pocketing the money he steals (at least not that we can see), so…what’s the point of his eventual heel turn? It’s maddening. Here’s a more specific example – throughout the whole movie, Salvatore is adamant that he has no interest in dealing with the local Mafioso boss Don Masino. It’s a major plot point, and it does a decent job of illustrating that he’s above corruption of power. But then outta nowhere he decides “Nah, I’ll meet him, and hey look we’ll join forces, kiss each other’s hands, strike a deal.” Aaaand then Don Masino convinces him to stage an ambush to scare his own people away from voting in the story’s central election, an ambush that somehow leads to a slaughter. Um, what?
We can talk about the script! The script that has no idea how to strike a balance between drama and humor, and instead whiplashes back and forth between overwrought melodrama and tone-deaf ridiculousness.
We can talk about Christopher Lambert, who may very well turn in the worst performance I’ve ever seen in the hundreds upon hundreds of movies I’ve seen in my life. He’s a Frenchman, playing a Sicilian, in an English-speaking movie, and everything about that combination that could be bad absolutely is bad.
We can talk about the cinematography, in a film that has the benefit of being able to actually shoot entirely on location (in Sicily, one of the most beautiful and interesting-looking places in the world), and make that location look completely flat and lifeless. Footage fit for a made-for-TV film.
We can talk about how this incoherent boring mess of a film is one hundred and forty six minutes long! Well, actually, we will talk about that in a bit.
But instead, what we’ll talk about is the director – Michael Cimino. Because allllll of those terrible threads wind their way back up to the film’s central source of awfulness, and it’s him. It’s hard to see why Cimino was hired in the first place. If you just took him at Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and The Deer Hunter, then sure! But you also have to consider Year of the Dragon and Heaven’s Gate; especially Heaven’s Gate, which was so bad that it essentially murdered Hollywood (well, ‘New Hollywood’ at any rate). So you have this guy, who’s got two early successes and two recent miserable failures, and you give him the adaptation of Mario Puzo’s sequel to The Godfather? The adaptation that you already paid $1Million for? That’s already a bad idea.
And it was cemented as a bad idea on nearly every step of the way. He wanted Lambert but nobody else did, so he threw a fit until he got his way. He consistently stayed over-budget and behind schedule. Once shooting was completed, he locked himself away for months for editing, eventually turning in a 150-minute cut, that the studio refused to release. And because his ‘final cut’ clause only took effect if the film was under 120-minutes – and Cimino refused to make a legit cut that fit the bill – he threw another fit, and passive-aggressively hacked and slashed it down to an intentional mess in a matter of days, just to qualify for time and final cut. Ya know, to prove a point.
The little stunt turned litigious, and Cimino eventually lost, leading to the studio head himself editing it down to 115 minutes (the ShoutFactory Blu reviewed here is the original 146-minute Director’s Cut, and after watching it I honestly can’t see what the hell he was fighting so hard for). And when it was finally released it flopped – earning back just over $5million of its estimated $16 million budget. Cimino would only go on to direct two more features.
So yeah, all of that to say that it’s bad. Not interesting-bad, or entertaining-bad, or an ambitious failure. Just a bad, boring, incoherent, contentious, and hell maybe even disrespectful, bad-bad film.
We got a 2.35:1 1080p transfer, that’s HD, sure, but the film doesn’t benefit from it. Again, everything’s so flat and cheap-looking that the extra definition just sort of accentuates it. And with a DTS-HD Stereo mix, the audio is fine, but that’s about it.
None. Like, at all. Not a trailer, not a commentary, not an interview, nada.
I’ve reviewed a handful of Shout/Scream Factory titles for ECAV here and one thing I’ve noticed is that even the bad movies have a certain amount of cultural - or at least conversational - significance. So it’s weird that they put the time and effort into this particular one. Heaven’s Gate? Sure. That movie was so bad it had an impact. This just sucks. I mean yeah, Cimino’s temper tantrums make for a rather interesting BTS tale, but they’re far from the most shocking stories out there. And if the BTS drama is indeed the conversational impetus for the release, then why not contextualize that with some supplemental features? Because if you don’t know the story behind it, you’ll just be left feeling like you spent 5 hours watching a two-hour movie and having no idea why. And hell, even if you do, chances are you’ll still be left feeling that way.