House of Gucci (2021)

Ridley Scott | 2hr 38min

It might be a little generous calling House of Gucci “Shakespearean”, but all the hallmarks are there – a conniving Lady Macbeth, the rise and fall of a noble family, fatally flawed antiheroes, and a poetic sense of tragedy in the culmination of remarkable treachery. If not Shakespeare, than perhaps comparisons may be drawn to The Godfather in its unfolding of an epic family saga, where empires built by parents are expanded and destroyed by their own children. The presence of Al Pacino as an uncle who must be cut out to let the younger entrepreneurs flourish is certainly a nod in that direction, though it is largely the strength of this operatic narrative and screenplay that gives House of Gucci such firm grounding in these historical archetypes.

In holding together this colossal historical story, Ridley Scott infuses a strong sense of destiny into its very fabric, most predominantly in the prophecies of Pina who offers counsel to Patrizia Reggiani, First Lady of the Gucci Empire. Though she acts as a soothsayer, she is no doubt a flawed one, often only telling her friend what she wishes to hear and even going so far as to foolishly conspire in her criminal plans. It is through her that Patrizia “sees” the affair going on between her husband, Maurizio, and his mistress, Paola, depicted in a seamless piece of editing that gives the appearance of them all sharing the same space.

The day that Patrizia’s ruthless nature fully surfaces and sets in motion the irrevocable downfall of the Gucci family is also spelled out right from the start, as her voiceover speaks with mournful nostalgia over an apparently ordinary sequence of Maurizio preparing for work. Two hours later we return to that same scene, though this time that narration is replaced with cutaways to Patrizia slyly submerging herself within a soapy bath, anxiously awaiting her dastardly plans to reach fruition. And indeed they do, as Scott brings his narrative full circle in a tragic manifestation of destiny, and the infamous mythology of the Gucci family is set in stone.

For the most part, this cast of bright stars understand and embrace the magnificently dramatic task at hand. In playing these larger-than-life figures whose existences are drenched in wealth and extravagance, their acting styles are suitably turned up to the brink of exaggeration. Some, like Jared Leto, tip over into full-on caricature, while Adam Driver is about as understated as you can be while faking an Italian accent. Lady Gaga is the one who hits the sweet spot in a performance that is certainly heightened, but still fully invested in drawing out the thrillingly dark power plays of the real Patrizia Reggiani. As relationships disintegrate between husbands, wives, fathers, and sons through affairs and backstabbing, there remains an irony to their attempts at upholding the “family character” of their brand that only thinly conceals their own hatred for each other.

True to the film’s operatic tendencies, classical arias and duets from such Italian composers as Rossini and Verdi find their way into House of Gucci, even as much of the soundtrack is dominated by 80s synth pop songs. It is in this blend of two conflicting styles that the duelling identities of the Gucci family are captured, being a family both propped up by tradition and utterly consumed in the hedonism of the modern world. Not every minute of this film is filled with the sort of tight, enthralling storytelling that its dramatic influences clearly possess, and yet Ridley Scott’s decades of experience working with classical narratives and universal archetypes effectively turns this complicated piece of recent history into an epic tragedy of grand destinies and fallen empires.

House of Gucci is currently playing in theatres.

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