House of Gucci
Ridley Scott’s latest feature is an ambitious film to a fault
Some true family stories are so incredulous that they make for fascinating drama. Such is the case in the fashion world with Versace, which was immortalized in the second season of American Crime Story (2016-) and Gucci, which has been brought to the silver screen by legendary director Ridley Scott with House of Gucci (2021) as his second film in less than a month after premiering the great and criminally underseen The Last Duel (2021).
House of Gucci is the story of a Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) of modest means who married into the wealthy Gucci family, and eventually ended up contracting killers to murder her husband Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver). The film follows as they fall in love, are cut off by Maurizio’s disapproving father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons),and are pityingly taken back in by Rodolfo’s brother Aldo (Al Pacino), who sees Maurizio as the definite heir to the family fortune after discarding his incompetent son Paolo (Jared Leto).
Ridley Scott has always been a fan of ambitious epics. Sometimes, however, this ambition can sometimes be the director’s greatest weakness. In Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Scott had to cut down his film to a sellable runtime and thus diluted the comprehensibility and quality of the product. His director’s cut that had the length of a miniseries showed how patience with this type of work becomes truly rewarding. Something similar happens in House of Gucci. The first two thirds of the movie are solid filmmaking, with intriguing politicking and heartbreaking betrayals. However, towards the finale Scott is forced to rush through crucial character choices and turning points. This makes the climax lose much of its punch and seem like a hastily arrived decision. I truly expect that much of the material left on the cutting-room floor was from this third act.
The wide scope of the film into the family saga is able to be kept concentrated and character driven thanks to Scott’s focus of Patrizia as the protagonist. This continues Scott using unconventional female perspectives in classically male stories; as seen with his work in The Last Duel. This works to great effect in House of Gucci, as we see the loving and well-intentioned Patrizia become slowly consumed and corrupted by power as she digs deeper into Gucci. However, this careful buildup and character work is recklessly abandoned in the finale when we switch perspectives to Maurizio’s story instead. Driver is great to watch, but his character is much flatter and not as interesting to follow having grown attached to Patrizia. This greatly costs the film when viewers must understand how Patrizia is eventually driven to the decision of ending her husband’s life. These motivational sequences are merely glanced over so that the finale abandons any type of character work or climax for a rushed conclusion.
Scott is able to rein in some truly spectacular performances. Lady Gaga is a standout, topping her performance from A Star is Born (2018), with a flawless take on Patrizia. Gaga has a difficult task of showing Patrizia’s love for her husband as well as how power and money slowly begin to corrupt her. Her performance is such a strong force that when Scott’s messy third act arrives and she disappears you truly miss her. The rest of the supporting cast from Driver to Pacino is strong and reliable, but Jared Leto is unfortunately quite the loose cannon. Leto, already infamous for being an uncontrollable actor, sometimes nails performances in his unpredictability, but in the case of House of Gucci is more of a liability. Any scene with Leto seems completely broken by an overexaggerated and comical performance that clashes horribly with the serious and dramatic take from everyone else. Thankfully, Gaga’s take is so powerful that it is almost able counteract all of Leto’s misses.
In the end, House of Gucci is a film that is largely solid and strong, but whose drawbacks in a key supporting role and a scant third act greatly diminish the final product. The critical character progressions that lead to some of the most momentous scenes in the story are left largely unexplored when their analysis would have been the juiciest parts for any filmmaker to take on. A confusing shift in protagonist from the great Gaga to a mix of perspectives in the finale also add to an unraveling that ends up being more of a weak shove than the final punch that was been intended.