Film Title: Salvo

Director: Fabio Grassadonia, Antonio Piazza

Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Tobey Maguire

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 110 min

Fri, Mar 21, 2014, 00:00


Be careful what you wish for. Be more careful still of your influences. Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza’s debut clearly owes a massive debt to Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï (1967). It’s not just that Salvo follows a solitary assassin as he goes about his awful business. The Italian film also plays homage to – or, perhaps, just apes – Melville’s beautiful minimalism.

Often shot from the protagonist’s point of view, Salvo plays out in steady, unthreatening rhythms. Much of this works very nicely. But the film never quite locates its own ground. It feels like a very challenging exercise carried off with much style but little real flair (the two things are not quite the same).

Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri plays the titular character as an enigma wrapped in a tissue of sly charisma. We begin with Salvo and his boss being ambushed by a gang of untrustworthy hoodlums. Our protagonist deals with them efficiently and then sets off to locate the hoodlums behind the hoodlums.

His investigations bring him to the apartment of a beautiful blind girl and her dangerous brother. Salvo kills the man, but takes pity on the woman and spirits her away to an abandoned mine. No surprises there. Movie heroes have been falling for blind ladies since Charlie Chaplin bought a flower from Virginia Cherrill in City Lights.

The directors, working with gifted cinematographer Daniele Cipri, find many opportunities to show off their technical abilities: Salvo revels in its artfully distressed production design and allows Bakri unending opportunities to simmer ambiguously. But something is missing. Though cinephiles will appreciate the nods to Melville (and to followers such as John Woo), civilians may find the film rather less gripping than run-of-the-mill export-friendly Italian gangster flicks such as Romanzo Criminale.

Still, there is much potential here. Fingers crossed.