Monday, October 25, 2010

In Name Only: Dario Argento's Giallo

After spending the last year or so dreading it, I finally got a chance last night to sit down and watch Dario Argento’s tampered-with and much-maligned Giallo. I must admit it felt very strange to not go into an Argento film with some level of major excitement but Giallo’s troubled history, coupled with the fact that Argento didn't have final-cut, helped me go into the film with my lowest expectations ever for a work credited to one of my favorite directors. I must say though that, while this is clearly among Argento’s weakest films, I didn’t think Giallo was a total disaster and I found it better than the three films that I think represent Argento’s career nadir: The Phantom of the Opera, Do You Like Hitchcock and The Mother of Tears.

Argento’s newest starts out well enough, with an opening fifteen minutes or so that are marked by fluid camera work, nice pacing and several touches that are clearly 'Argentoesque'. The film starts to stumble though as soon as Adrien Brody’s character is introduced and it never recovers. Choppy, confused and, by the closing credits, an Argento film in name only, Giallo has inspired moments that are scattered throughout but it never catches fire or ever even comes close to really even sparking. Giallo’s biggest problem is its blandness. This just isn’t that exciting of a film and it’s really hard to ever truly engage with it.

A bad script (dealing here with a misogynistic serial killer who is kidnapping, mutilating and killing beautiful young women around Rome) isn’t the kiss of death for an Argento film, due to his audacious visual style, but here he doesn’t make up for the lethargic and lazy writing from American screenwriters Jim Agnew and Sean Keller. I saw someone else mention that Giallo feels like a work written by a pair that might have an idea of what a 'Giallo' is but they have no understanding of it. That’s pretty dead-on as far as a major issue behind the troubled Giallo goes, as it only occasionally approaches the classic Italian Genre that Argento is one of the unquestionable masters of. Could the film have been a success had Argento been allowed to make the movie he wanted to make? Probably, but with rumored interference from day one we will probably never know as a true director’s cut might be impossible at this point.

On top of a piss-poor script, Giallo also lacks some of the more necessary elements that typically grace an Argento picture, such as a memorable score and stylized look. The score, from Spanish born Marco Werba, is the dullest to ever grace an Argento film and it never elevates the material in the way a Morricone or Goblin soundtrack would have. Cinematographer Frederic Fasano, whose photography was one of the only saving graces for Mother of Tears, also delivers disappointing work as the look of Giallo is never that interesting. Outside of a few directorial flourishes there just isn’t much stylistically that Giallo has going for it and this, coupled with the poor scripting, makes it a long 90 minutes to get through.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the film is the failure of what looked to be expert casting. Moon in the Gutter favorite Emmanuelle Seigner attempts valiantly to deliver a heartfelt performance as a woman obsessed with finding her kidnapped sister but the script doesn’t give her anything to work with, and her performance flounders because of this. Even worse is a stiff Adrien Brody who delivers a bizarre and lifeless performance (or performances, but I won’t go into that here) as Inspector Enzo Avolfi. Brody can be incredibly dynamic and exciting to watch (I have championed him here before) but he delivers a real self-sabotaging performance for Argento in Giallo. Compare Brody’s work here to Stefania Rocco’s bravura performance in Argento’s The Card Player a few years back for an example of how a great actor in a similar role can elevate extremely flawed material.

Giallo is a regrettable work from Dario Argento but, unlike Mother of Tears, it isn’t necessarily one to get angry about. This is absolutely a case where the blame for most of the problems on the screen rests at the foot of a group of producers who were looking to capitalize on Argento’s name, while not allowing him to make his own film. Perhaps instead of looking at Giallo as a complete failure we should celebrate the moments (particularly the opening sections of the film) where Argento’s genius shines through…they are admittedly few and far between but they make the film good for at least one viewing for devotees.


Paul Kell said...

what's happened to brody's career? and why? when i first zeroed in on him in the thin red line i had huge expectations. he was great in summer of sam and he blew up with the pianist...but since then he's kinda tailed off into b-movie middling. don't get me wrong, i loved splice...but shouldn't this academy award winner be attaching himself to more cream projects?

Mike Lippert said...

Well, what an achievement being better than Mother of Tears is;). I don't know, I think Argento passed his prime when he started putting his daughter's boobs in his movies.

CiNEZiLLA said...

Wow. Excellent piece Jeremy.
I really feel that I need to see this one now. Just like yourself I've been keeping this one at arms length as I didn't really want to see another poor Argento movie. But now I feel that I might actually give it a spin.


Guillaume said...

I also liked DO YOU LIKE HITCHCOCK? and MOTHER OF TEARS...weakest Argento films are in my opinion PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and SLEEPLESS (despite two great set-pieces and Goblin's wonderful score)

Guillaume said...

I thought that GIALLO was an ok thriller and a decent film,minor Argento because of a certain lack of scope and some rushed stuff but i liked Brody's character(s) and the cold,nasty tone of some of the script's ideas...the opening scenes aren't bad, i agree,i also enjoyed some others scenes (Elsa's escape,the butcher scene(s),Yello's birth),especially the cynical ending/last scene between Brody and Seigner.

Elgart said...

Adrien Brody played here very well! great review!