Octogenarian filmmaker Ridley Scott is among the hardest working directors in Hollywood.
With over 50 movies to his credit – including a pair of new releases this year and another two currently in production – Scott doesn’t stop for much of anything, let alone the coronavirus pandemic.
After completing his medieval epic The Last Duel during the latter part of 2020, Scott immediately sought to prepare his next elaborate undertaking in the spring of this year, an Italian fashion drama that wrapped in May only to release in theaters with a showstopping 157 minute run time six months later.
With more time and preparation, The Last Duel is unquestionably the better and more cohesive of Scott’s 2021 offerings, but this isn’t to say that his new feature isn’t just as dynamic and likely more universally watchable.
Gucci is perhaps the most elaborate, luxurious, well-acted soap operas in years, an embarrassment of riches that doesn’t always live up to the price tag but never fails to provide interesting moments and debatable filmmaking decisions.
Inspired by true events, the film follows the rise and fall of Patrizia Reggiani, a middle class woman thrust into the world of elite tastemakers when she happens to meet and fall in love with Maurizio Gucci, heir to the fashion empire, only to see her world crumble to the point where she plots his murder.
Lady Gaga will almost certainly receive her second Best Actress Oscar nomination for her magnetic work as Patrizia after just missing out on a win for 2018’s A Star is Born.
She thrives and relishes in the juicy dialogue writers Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna pen to cultivate an alluring world of intrigue. Though none of the Italian accents in the film feel incredibly authentic, every word oozes out of Gaga’s lips with a captivating intensity that hides the subtle physical changes she’s able to bring out in Patrizia over time.
It’s in great contrast to Adam Driver, who offers the most complex, introspective performance in the film as Maurizio, an overly cautious man that is constantly being manipulated by those around him until he learns from Patrizia’s ways. Driver is a deliberate actor whose use of restraint always leaves audiences wondering what Maurizio is truly thinking.
Gucci is also perhaps the most restrained turn from Oscar winner Al Pacino in years, whose Aldo Gucci warmly comes across as the charming uncle and when tested, his reactions feel far more natural and not comically over the top.
This is not the case with Jared Leto’s performance as the Gucci family’s black sheep, Paolo, which is so far beyond being in the same movie as the other actors that it feels like Leto just beamed himself down in a fat suit from another planet. His Paolo is what it would be like to have Fredo from The Godfather films portrayed by Luigi from Super Mario Brothers.
Gaga, Driver, Pacino et al uniformly balance the tone between serious melodrama and lighthearted humor, while Leto’s caricature dances around the screen as if in a complete farce. Audiences could easily be driven out of the world of Gucci entirely by Leto’s outlandishness if not for how committed everyone around him is to a more restrained style.
Conversely, Salma Hayek’s limited role as Patrizia’s confident and psychic Pina adds a unique twist to Gaga’s character and allows her to find the darker side needed to be as ruthless as Patrizia becomes. But her role is so limited – and worse yet, the storytelling introducing Pina into the narrative so haphazard – that her inclusion doesn’t totally work in the larger picture either.
As a film of its stature, profile and budget would naturally require, House of Gucci looks and feels the part of a glamorous blockbuster. Each set is lavish and meticulously crafted with the production team partnering with Gucci’s archival team to find and authentically style the actors in period designer clothing.
Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski’s visuals are uniformly crisp and bold and help bridge the gaps in storytelling where audiences may be missing pieces of the puzzle to understand the narrative timeline and how characters are impacting the events of the film.
House of Gucci has the Oscar-bait aura around it with the glitz, glamour and big name stars, although it’s difficult to see a Best Picture nomination due to a muddled tone and storytelling flaws. Gaga feels like an acting lock with Driver a strong possibility as well, with several technical nominations likely.
While not the best film from Scott this season – The Last Duel being a must-see drama – House of Gucci has the widespread appeal, beauty and drama worthy of checking out at a local cinema or early next year upon its release on Paramount+.