House of Gucci. MA, 158 minutes. Three stars.
Genius British filmmaker Ridley Scott makes a surprising true crime film with House of Gucci.
It steps through the complex business and family drama behind the fashion label Gucci that led to the execution of label head Maurizio Gucci on the steps of his Milan home in 1995.
As a young law student, Maurizio (Adam Driver) doesn't care much about his famous family's fashion business. At a party, he meets the charming Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) and is smitten, taking her to meet his father, Rodolfo Gucci (Jeremy Irons).
Dad thinks she is a perfectly fine young woman, but suspects she may be after this family money and will not allow Maurizio to marry her. Standing behind his principles, young Maurizio leaves his family and inheritance behind and asks Patrizia's father for a job with his trucking company, and he marries her.
An olive branch is extended by uncle Aldo Gucci (Al Pacino) and the rift is further mended by the offer of a job in the business for Maurizio. Almost immediately, the astute Patrizia is whispering in her husband's ear and conspiring to put him at the company's centre.
Among those in her way include Maurizio's cousin Paolo (Jared Leto), whose eye for design is derided by the family's older generation.
Patrizi's business instincts may be sharp but her execution was occasionally sloppy, and as the company changes hands to the younger generation, the now-chief executive officer Maurizio grows tired of his wife's endless scheming.
Sidelined, Patrizia grows increasingly bitter and desperate, and employs the television psychic (Salma Hayek) she has befriended over the years in a final scheme to kill Maurizio.
The saying goes, "Don't let the truth get in the way of a good story" but in this case there might just be a bit too much true story to fit in.
This film could have been all that, could have been an Oscar contender. It has so much going for it. Big fashion, true crime, and so much name-dropping. But it goes right off the rails in its second half and part of the reason for this is Leto's unhinged performance.
Leto spends the entire film unrecognisable under prosthetics and bald makeup. I fully expect a backlash from the thousands of fat and balding middle-aged actors who could have chewed this scenery just as easily.
Even Tom Ford, the Texan designer who saved House of Gucci and who appears at the film's end (played by Reeve Carney) hasn't been able to control his mirth in interviews over Leto playing Paolo Gucci with an almost brain-damaged derangement.
Lady Gaga's performance, though, is brilliant. She gives this character weight, and it's a pity the film around her doesn't rise to her level of dedication.
I'm fascinated by the old-world money snobbery of the film too. Irons' Rodolfo doesn't want Patrizia muddying up the family bloodlines because she's a poor schemer, but Patrizia's family runs a trucking empire, and happily take in the disinherited Maurizio.
Driver is contained elegance as the bland Maurizio. Interestingly, his performance improves across the film, probably because it takes much of that time for Maurizio to grow a backbone and come out from under the shadow of his wife.
The film is based on Sara Gay Forden's The House of Gucci: A True Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour and Greed and the experience is all there in that title.
It is enjoyable in the same way that Dynasty or Dallas were. The glamorous fashion and locales and the prettiness of the performers make you enjoy yourself despite the ham-fisted throw-everything-at-the screen approach.
Costuming is impeccable, sometimes impeccably dated and cringe-inducing, and kudos to Janty Yates who has dressed many of Scott's films.
The soundtrack is occasionally inspired, such as an Italian-language version of The Monkees' I'm a Believer.