Writer’s note: The second paragraph of this article (just below the first image) contains a basic outline of the film’s premise. There are no spoilers that weren’t already inferred in the film’s own trailer. However, if you want to completely avoid potential spoilers, skip over the second paragraph.
As was discussed in The Last Duel review, director Ridley Scott has defined his career by being largely undefinable. There’s no genre he won’t tackle, nor is there any style he won’t try out. This has resulted in a consistently inconsistent filmography, in which he will release an absolute masterpiece one day and a total dud the next. This always makes a new Scott film an exciting prospect, as there’s always a chance you’re about to see his latest classic. When he’s on an off day you’re still likely to get something out of the experience, as even his lesser works are worthy of discussion. In the case of House of Gucci (2021), Scott may have delivered a film which represents the creative inconsistency of his enter catalogue.
The film is an adaption of the events leading up to the real life assassination of Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), the Italian businessman and one-time head of the Gucci fashion empire. Our story begins in the late 1980s with Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), a young Italian woman who meets and marries Maurizio, thus securing her place as a member of the Gucci family. Over the course of their time together, the couple wrestle for control of the empire, forcing them to butt heads with Maurizio’s father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) and his uncle Aldo (Al Pacino). There’s even Maurizio’s cousin Paolo (Jared Leto) in this power struggle, an eccentric whom most of the family thinks is talentless and useless. Patrizia is the mastermind behind all of Maurizio’s power plays, but this makes Maurizio cautious of her as he recognises she might be his true enemy vying for power.
When making a film like this, the storyteller could either make it a flamboyant, campy ride, or could focus on the dirty business dealings with minimalism and realism. Ever the risk taker, Scott has decided to juggle both of these tones, making the viewing experience wonderfully exciting as well as fundamentally flawed. If you’re enjoying the strange antics and sexually charged insanity, you’re probably going to be bored during the more down to earth sequences. If you’re enjoying the dense discussions and contract negotiations, the colourful mayhem may reduce the level of class. As far as the tone goes, it’s as if Scott has shoved the The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and The Godfather (1972) in a blender. These two extremes are incompatible, but it does make for fascinating viewing.
The tone isn’t the only aspect which both suffers and benefits from this concoction, as the narrative itself feels like it’s been broken into very distinct thirds. First we’re in a fluffy love story, then we’re in an exploration of excess, and then we’re dropped into a tale of greed, betrayal and murder. The result is an engaging yet wildly disjointed ride, as we constantly jump between differing story points, changing character motivations and evolving stakes practically on a dime. Thankfully, none of it is hard to follow as there is a pretty clear through-line, but it does at times feel a little all over the place. Weirdly, this is part of the film’s unique charm, as its oddly schizophrenic structure seems to parallel the many bizarre characters.
This brings us to the performances, which is also a mixed bag of highs and lows. Adam Driver does fine work as Maurizio, convincingly evolving from bookish nerd to heartless businessman. Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and Salma Hayek all have moments to enjoyably deliver their signature affectations, but its Lady Gaga and Jared Leto who grab the most attention. Gaga has proven to be an incredibly capable performer, as she practically steals the show with her energy, exuberance and ruthlessness. Leto on the other hand delivers a performance which oscillates between embarrassingly over the top and genuinely hilarious. His work here definitely holds your attention, but he’s likely to be a front runner for the Razzies as well as the Oscars.
There’s even a sense that the direction was unclear, as the pacing is purposely slowed in order to allow the scenes to form in real time. Each sequence plays for oddly stretched periods of time, making it feel like we’re listening to a long winded story which we want to end. This is both a good thing and a bad thing, as our attention is held but it may result in our impatience. This extends to how each scene transitions to the next, as we are thrust into the next moment before the previous one has even come to a sensible conclusion. The best way to describe this is in how the characters interact, as the long pauses between every line makes it seem like the cast, crew and director were just letting scenes play out to see what happened in the moment. This is arguably as experimental as basic narrative films tend to get, as Scott is both testing the viewers engagement and patience.
While much of this sounds like a drawback, it’s actually part of what makes House of Gucci linger in the mind. On paper, this is a fascinating biographical story with fascinating implications, yet Scott has intentionally avoided telling it in a basic fashion. Even with the broken structure and flawed storytelling, you can still glean the film’s meaning, thematics and points of analysis. Under normal circumstances, it’s virtually impossible to have a thematically coherent film if it’s this messy, but these are not normal circumstances and Scott isn’t a normal director. Scott often packs his films with as much story as humanly possible, even if it results in some unnecessary fat. Despite all the nonsense, the audience will still leave the cinema with a clear picture of what the film was trying to say.
House of Gucci is a big, brash, bold and brazen film with absolutely nothing to hide. Across its near three hour runtime, there’s definitely going to be something in there for everyone, but that doesn’t mean it’s a film which will work for everyone. It’s classy, yet it’s also makes you cringe. It’s exciting, yet it may also put you to sleep. Ultimately, these contradictions is precisely why it’ll be remembered at all.
Best way to watch it: With a Choc-Top in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.