Director: Dario Argento
Writers: Jim Agnew, Sean Keller, Dario Argento
Starring: Adrien Brody, Emmanuelle Seigner, Elsa Pataky
Dario Argento’s 2009 film Giallo is the only film that he has directed that wasn’t based his own original idea. Instead, the story was written with him in mind, with Argento agreeing to direct. At the time of release, it was more well-known due to the controversy around Adrien Brody’s pay. Brody wasn’t paid correctly, and successfully blocked the DVD release in America until this dispute with the producers was settled in 2011, two years after the film originally premiered. Dario Argento himself refused to do any promotion of the film in Italy to stand with Brody in the matter. Aside from that the film was critically torn apart at the time of release, receiving universally horrendous reviews from critics and audience.
Inspector Enzo Avolfi (Adrien Brody) has been working the case of a serial killer for a while, covering his office with pictures of the victims, but he has no solid leads. After another girl goes missing, the victim’s sister Linda (Emmanuelle Seigner) gives Avolfi a clue that may help him track down the killer and save Linda’s sister at the same time.
One of the first things about this is film that’s noticeable, especially for something from Argento in the Giallo genre, is that most of the violence is off-screen, at least at first. You see the first girl getting kidnapped, you see what he’s going to do, but the camera pans away. When you’re watching someone else helplessly witnessing the killer mutilating a victim, rather than the act itself, it’s more horrific. The camera panning away is more impactful than the close-up violence you get latter in the film, although the late scene where someone’s hands move across shards of glass is eye-wincing.
Adrien Brody does a good job as Inspector Enzo Avolfi, who is dedicating every waking moment to finding the killer and saving Celine. Avolfi has his own past, that’s revealed slowly throughout with flashbacks and he’s an interesting and likable character. His character walks the line between the clichéd rouge cop and a more charismatic person. Brody also appears as the killer, although heavily disguised in make-up, that looks like something out of a sketch show. He’s not a menacing figure, and does come across as a stereotype, rather than a character. Even the fact that Brody plays both the inspector and villain doesn’t really add up to anything, beyond the basic mirroring of the two characters.
Unlike most of Argento’s giallo films, the killer is revealed quite early on, and the central mystery isn’t figuring it out who he is, it’s more focused on saving Celine. What the film fails to do is create true tension with what the timeframe to do that in is. It’s not clear how much time has passed throughout the story, or how long Celine has left. Is the killer feeding her? It’s not clear how long she’s been kidnapped for. You really should be under the impression that time is running out. The previous victim, who is already being slowly tortured when Celine is first kidnapped, should give a better sense of how long Celine has, but she doesn’t. We just get tiny pieces of information that the cuts are inflicted over a long period of time. The lack of urgency means the tension is never ramped up beyond finding Celine.
Giallo is a fairly standard thriller, with some decent gore and an interesting lead character. The killer is a joke, which is a let-down, and the ending would be a lot more powerful if it ended one scene earlier. It even feels like it’s going to end there, with a long shot of Brody walking towards the camera, but another scene is added to give closure to everything. Argento has stated that he didn’t like the final cut of the film as the producers re-edited it, which would explain the mismatch of the ending. The ingredients are all here for another giallo classic from Argento, but it seems like there was just too many cooks in the kitchen on this one.
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