‘Angel of Evil’ spotlights Milanese bank robber Renato Vallanzasca

Kim Rossi Stuart offers a convincing, towering performance as famed Milanese bank robber, Renato Vallanzasca, in the new film, Angel of Evil (also known as Vallanzasca — Gli Angeli del Male). The actor has the right balance of malevolence, sex appeal and charm. He’s a dark man with a troubled mind, and the police’s fatal flaw is when they underestimate his talents at deception. It might be a bit of a stretch, but in Vallanzasca’s heyday, the women of Italy wanted to be with him and men wanted to be him. He was a violent criminal, but the media darling’s mugshot was plastered over papers far and wide, gaining him an instantly infamous persona.

The movie that surrounds Stuart’s performance is not quite up to the actor’s talents. Angel of Evil feels bloated with typical crime-world exposition, and none of the supporting characters come close to the dynamism of Stuart’s performance.

Photo courtesy of Idea Go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Angel of Evil, in many ways, will remind audiences of Blow, the 2001 Johnny Depp movie about cocaine dealer George Jung. Both films are rags-to-stolen-riches tales about men who understand law enforcement so well that they develop mechanisms to flaunt its obvious weaknesses. In Vallanzasca’s case, this means gathering a group of trusted friends to shake down banks in Milan.

Everything goes swimmingly in the beginning, and the requisite booze, drugs and girls eventually enter the picture. In fact, in these early scenes, director Michele Placido is able to spin a believable yarn of 1970s-era hedonism. Vallanzasca, at least in his early career, was a criminal with a daring showmanship. Much more circus ringleader than hardened toughie, the man oozed charisma when he was around his colleagues and in the media spotlight.

When Vallanzasca grows older and the police pressure grows stiffer, the storytelling in Angel of Evil falters. Our central figure is reduced to cliché conversations through prison glass panels, and rivalries with other crime lords take on comic-book dimensions. For a man who emerged from the Milanese working class, Vallanzasca’s story becomes too media saturated. Once the criminal realizes he’s an unlikely star in the newspapers and the hearts of doting women, Stuart’s performance becomes hampered by montage sequences and a crippling self-awareness.

Thankfully, the film is saved near the end, when the character of Vallanzasca comes around to the reality of his new existence. And there is no denying that the story is invigorating, bordering on unbelievable.

Placido is skilled at keeping the plot moving along, and the screenplay, which was penned by six writers, including Placido and Stuart, is always smart and efficient. But when Vallanzasca’s story loses steam, so does Angel of Evil. It’s one of the difficulties of biopics on the big screen: If the subject doesn’t produce a natural arc, there is a feeling of letdown.

Some of the best cinematic examples of true-crime stories decide to focus on problems rather than people. Gomorrah, which detailed the nefariousness of the Naples crime syndicate, is probably the perfect example of how malfeasance can enthrall and teach so much on the silver screen. Angel of Evil wants to be like that film, and even though it comes up short, it’s still a thrill to watch Vallanzasca wiggle out of another dead-end situation.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Angel of Evil (Vallanzasca — Gli Angeli del Male)

  • 2011

  • Directed by Michele Placido

  • Written by Placido, Kim Rossi Stuart, Antonio Leotti, Toni Trupia, Andrea Leanza and Antonella D’Agostino (screenplay collaboration); based on a story by Andrea Purgatori and Angelo Pasquini; based on a book by Renato Vallanzasca, Carlo Bonini and D’Agostino

  • Starring Kim Rossi Stuart, Paz Vega and Filippo Timi

  • Running time: 125 minutes

  • Rated R for strong brutal violence, pervasive language, some sexual content, nudity and drug use

  • Rating: ★★★☆

  • Click here to purchase Angel of Evil on DVD.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

2 thoughts on “‘Angel of Evil’ spotlights Milanese bank robber Renato Vallanzasca

  • July 30, 2011 at 2:01 pm
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    Great review. However I have to disagree on one thing.

    “Angel of Evil” is a straightforward action film showing how one can be attracted and repelled by evil (even if you can’t justify Vallanzasca’s actions you can’t help but being fascinated by him — that’s the point of the scenes with the doting women) whereas “Gomorrah” is a tedious documentary-wannabe with an unfocused screenplay and characters you don’t even care for (the subject matter is certainly relevant but that alone doesn’t make the film good). I have no idea how you came to that conclusion in the final paragraph as the two films couldn’t be more different. “Angel of Evil” wasn’t even trying to be similar to “Gomorrah” so I don’t think that yours is a fair criticism.

    Kim Rossi Stuart, who also nailed his character’s accent perfectly, should win awards for this performance (but he won’t) and is the main reason to see this otherwise average but entertaining film.

    Reply
  • July 30, 2011 at 2:10 pm
    Permalink

    Thanks for your comment. I appreciate the feedback and see where you are coming from in terms of “Gomorrah.”

    There is no denying that Kim Rossi Stuart does a stand-up job in “Angel of Evil,” and I would definitely consider him for some accolades come awards time. In the United States, the film opened and closed fairly quickly, so hopefully it will find a second life on DVD.

    Thanks for visiting Hollywood Soapbox, and if you have any suggestions for good Italian action flicks that have come out recently, let us know. We’ll be happy to include more reviews on the site.

    Regards.

    Reply

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