REVIEW: DVD Release: Romanzo Criminale

Film: Romanzo Criminale
Release date: 7th May 2007
Certificate: 15
Running time: 147 mins
Director: Michele Placido
Starring: Kim Rossi-Stuart, Pierfrancesco Favino, Claudio Santamaria, Stefano Accorsi, Riccardo Scamarcio
Genre: Crime/Drama
Studio: Icon
Format: DVD
Country: Italy

Set in Rome in the 1970s and ‘80s, Romanzo Criminale examines one of the most infamous Italian gangs of all time, the “banda della Magliana” (Magliana gang), whose activity is strictly linked to twenty-five years of the history of the country. The script is based on Giancarlo de Cataldo’s novel (Romanzo Criminale, 2002), which is inspired by the gang’s true story.

On a foggy Roman night, a group of young kids steals a car and wander the streets at high speed, until they run over a policeman. This crime is going to be the first of many more to come. Four boys self-nicknamed Lebanese, Dandi, Freddo and Grana, friends since a young age, are petty criminals with poor, working-class backgrounds. When they grow up, their dreams have become bigger, as have their desires and wills. A kidnapping and a murder establish a bond between the thugs that is going to last until the very end. There is a single rule to be followed: that of the gun.

The film is divided in sub-sections, each one focused on a gang member. Lebanese (Pierfrancesco Favino) is the focus of the first section. His determination, intelligence and brutal mindset gain him the role of leader of the gang, which at that point is moving its first steps. The group gets his hands onto everything they can: drugs, gambling, thefts, and murders. Quickly they wage feuds to other city gangs, establishing themselves with unrepentant bloodbaths among the underground criminal world in the Italian capital. Police superintendent Scialoja (Stefano Accorsi) is the only one who believes there is a common cause that links the underground wars, the murders and the changes in the drug business. Following Patrizia (Anna Mouglalis), a high-class prostitute, and a trail of signed banknotes, Scialoja collects enough evidence to put the head of the gang, Lebanese, behind the bars. Not for long, though: a ‘hand from above’ comes to his aide - the evidence disappears and Lebanese is a free man in no time.

In Italy, those were the years of the widespread terror caused by the Red Brigades, the far-left insurgent group. The terrorists gave a major blow to the State when they kidnapped Aldo Moro, Christian-Democratic political leader and former Prime Minister of the Republic. Moro was kidnapped on 16th March 1978, and was found dead 54 days later in the trunk of a red Renault 4 parked in Via Botteghe Oscure, Rome. Here is when the drama of the film merges with history. The gang is initially asked to find where the man is kept, but an order, again, coming ‘from above’, says to abandon the task, and leaves Moro to his doomed destiny.

The second section of the film, after Lebanese leaves the scene, is focused on Freddo (Kim Rossi Stuart), who takes his place. The story takes a more human side at this stage: there is a vendetta to carry out, and all the resources and intelligence of the gang are gathered for that purpose. At the same time, things gradually grow out of hand. The organisation is betrayed from the inside, so the rationality which had characterised all their moves leaves space to instinct and the battle of the alpha males. The arm of the law is tightening around them, and the trust between the gangsters is worn away by backstabs and betrayals. There is no space for agreements nor compromise, for the ‘irons’ have always the last word…

The film is a tale really well written. What makes it even more incredible is that once you take out the romance and the characters built by the author of the novel, this is a tale that really happened. Up to today, many questions on the Magliana gang have not been completely answered. The links between the gangsters and the Moro kidnapping, the intrigues of the State, the mainstream politics, the mafia, and the Vatican are still pages covered by a thick veil of mystery. The jigsaw is still missing pieces.

The drama merged with history and true events makes the narration engaging, fluent and easy to follow. An outstanding cast renders the whole thing alive and kicking: Kim Rossi Stuart, with his usual glacial look; Pierfrancesco Favino and his ‘limping’ smartness; and the violent relativism of Riccardo Scamarcio’s Nero.

Romanzo Criminale is a superb story of crime ‘made in Italy’, which for once is not mafia-focused. Having given to the non-Italian audience an over-romanticised caricature of the organised crime in the Mediterranean country, the reality is much colder and calculated, deadly and terrible. A must watch. DG


  1. Not quite the classic it's been built up to be, and far too long, but still a decent addition to the gangster/crime genre if you're a fan

  2. A disappointment compared to the book, and doesn't realy go further than a made for television series would. Too safe and frivolous and not representative of the characters or the lifestyle at all