More noise than signal

The Sicilian

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Two years later and Cimino’s broken free of the studio soundstages he was largely confined to in Year of the Dragon for another sprawling, on location epic, The Sicilian, based on Godfather author Mario Puzo’s book about Salvatore Guiliano, the real life gangster with a mythos that has a touch of Robin Hood about him.

Now, of course, when you think about casting a character with the description of “Sicilian Gangster”, you naturally think of French, well, let’s call him an actor, Christopher Lambert. Of course. Who else? Anyway, he takes the role of Guiliano, initially a black marketeer smuggling food into heavily rationed villages during WW2 under the nose of the government. He’s busted during one of his runs with his cousin and best friend Gaspare “Aspanu” Pisciotta (John Turturro), leading to a shootout that sees him critically wounded and a police officer dead.

Piscotta takes him to a local monastery where he recovers, but realises he’s now a wanted outlaw. Guiliano and Piscotta escape to the Cammaratta Mountains, and the two eventually hatch a plan to set up in the organised crime business for themselves. They start freeing prisoners and stealing grain from local landed gentry and distributing them amongst the poor, increasing his fame and causing others to flock to his banners.

He grows more confident and audacious with each action, which soon winds up with him in the crosshairs of the Church, the State and the Mafia, all of whom he refuses to bow to. This sets him on a collision course with these groups who attempt to remove the threat he faces in various ways, making Guiliano rightly more paranoid as time goes on.

There’s a sub plot in here somewhere about a love interest, but it’s so wildly underdeveloped that I can remember no details about it whatsoever.

Now, there’s not a great deal of point picking over the minutiae of how this film has turned out, because there’s the rather glaring central fact that somehow, presumably on a dare, Christopher Lambert was cast as the lead in this film. In terms of effect, you might as well have cast Pee Wee Herman as the lead, or Rod Hull, or Emu, all of which might have delivered slightly more convincing central performances than the slowly unfolding train-wreck that’s found its way on screen.

I mean, the rest of the cast are generally fine, although probably only just fine, which is disappointing when you’ve got the likes of Terence Stamp parading about. Cimino was coming under terrible pressure to cut this film down in running time, and for once I wish this had a bit more room to breathe. While Heaven’s Gate spent a lot of time on nothing consequential, this runs at the opposite end of the spectrum, crashing on through events making it hard to get a feel of the timeframe we’re talking about in the film. It seems unduly compressed.

But, as mentioned, that’s not all that important. This film lives or dies on Lambert’s performance and charisma, neither of which showed up for the party. He’s dire, and so sadly the entire film is dragged down to his level – a pity, as this is a story that has real potential. Who wouldn’t like Robin Hood mashed up with The Godfather? But The Sicilian is a banal, lifeless mess. Cimino’s weakest film so far.