It begins with three teens smashing a car window; it ends 15 years and 150 bloody minutes later with everyone betrayed, banged up or dead. Michele Placido’s Mafia epic follows Italy’s transition from ’70s terrorism to ’90s capitalism as Libanese (Pierfrancesco Favino) and his mates massacre their way up Rome’s Mafia hierarchy. Placido shoves brutal violence and backstabbing intrigue in yer face, while TV news reports pad out the backdrop (Red Brigade bombs, the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II, Italy’s 1982 World Cup triumph). There’s no denying Romanzo Criminale’s naked ambition, its multi-strand narrative living up to its title (‘Crime Novel’). For all its polish, though, it’s strangely detached; the character-dwarfing sprawl reduces its protagonists to expendable pawns on the chessboard of history.
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