I’ve attested for years that Ridley Scott is a director who either runs hot or cold. The man simply doesn’t make middle-of-the-road or average films. A great Ridley Scott movie can be absolutely fantastic. You only need to see his work on Alien, Blade Runner, or Gladiator to know that the man is talented. You also only need to see Prometheus, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and Alien: Covenant to know that a bad Ridley Scott movie can be bad or even painful at times. The fact that 2021 has given us two of his films, The Last Duel and House of Gucci, in the span of two months had me inevitably ask which one would be better. It also had me hoping and praying that both movies were hot instead of cold.
While Scott may rage at (checks notes) how Millennials didn’t see The Last Duel because of cell phones, I thought the film was fairly strong. It’s not an all-time classic, but it was engaging and had a unique enough execution where I looked favorably on it a month later. The complete lack of promotion killed its chances, but it’s clear that isn’t a problem for House of Gucci. Advertisements for this film have been all over the place for the past several weeks and it’s undeniably Scott has Oscar ambitions with this film. And like most others aiming for Oscar success, it’s a perfectly fine, if unimpressive, experience.
That’s right, we may actually have a lukewarm Ridley Scott film.
House of Gucci
Director: Ridley Scott
Release Date: November 24, 2021 (Theatrical)
House of Gucci chronicles the eponymous Gucci family, though mostly from the perspective of Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), who marries Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) and therefore becomes a member of the family. The film chronicles how she begins to rise in power within the family and mercilessly eliminates anyone who gets in the way of her and her husband, including other members of the Gucci family. Eventually, it’s not even out of the advancement of her and her husband, but mostly for herself. And like most true crime stories, there are humble beginnings, a rise to power, and abuse of power, only to then lead to a catastrophic fall.
It’s a fairly standard crime drama that hits all of the beats that you would expect it to, but unlike lesser movies in the same vein like, say, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, there’s a certain elegance to the overall proceedings. You really do get a sense of the opulence that envelops the Gucci family, whether it be the Italian villas they live in or the immaculate stores they conduct their business in. You really do get the sense of just how wealthy and important this family is in the fashion world and how powerful the name Gucci really is.
Moreso than anything else, you get that impression from the all-star cast that was assembled here. Lady Gaga is set to get another Best Actress nomination as she completely invested herself in Patrizia’s life and the results are worth the price of admission. From the cadence of her voice to the way she styles her hair, Gaga simply went all-in on delivering a wonderful performance. It might not be as good as her role in A Star is Born, but that’s only because that movie catered to her wonderful musical talents and it would have been out of place to see a wealthy Italian socialite break out into song. Her character may represent a concept that’s familiar to viewers, that money and absolute power corrupts which ultimately transforms her into the villain of the piece, but damn is it good to see Gaga be bad.
Praise also deserves to be given to Al Pacino, who plays Maurizio’s uncle Aldo Gucci. Pacino is clearly a veteran to types of characters like Aldo (corrupt businessmen who stay close to family and traditional values) and that experience is certainly evident. Pacino also has a shot at Academy Award fame, while the rest of the cast all deliver fine jobs. Adam Driver delivers an okay performance, his role in The Last Duel is better than what’s here, and Salma Hayak and Jeremy Irons also deliver good and entertaining roles.
Outside of the great cast that was assembled though, House of Gucci feels dispassionate about its plot. It goes about its scenes matter of factly with the cast delivering good performances almost in spite of Scott’s direction. Moments between Maurizio and Patrizia that are meant to be tender come across as clinical, robbing the two of any meaningful chemistry. Given that the central narrative hinges on how we perceive both Maurizio and Patrizia, the movie shouldn’t be as sterile as it is towards them, or even about the business discussions. Scenes in here are about as entertaining as actually sitting in a room with business executives going over contract negotiations.
When the movie does come alive with energy, it’s usually in the wrong ways. Case in point, Jared Leto.
Now, I don’t hate Jared Leto as an actor. I think the man is capable of delivering good performances. But what was he even on during the filming of House of Gucci. Every time his character pops up he mugs to the camera and is so over-the-top cartoonish that it directly clashes with the serious nature of the film. There’s a scene towards the end of the movie where he’s making a deal alongside his uncle to some investors and his entire presence there is just to be comic relief in a scene that needs none of it. He makes stupid remarks and exits the movie with a bizarre one-liner that I think I was supposed to laugh at? I know the people in my theater were laughing at him, but only because he didn’t gel whatsoever with anything that was happening around him.
The film also goes hot and cold over its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, shifting its focus to the interpersonal relationships between the family members and the status of the Gucci business. I like the fact that not everything is spelled out for the audience. The movie never outright explains how Patrizia and Maurizio were able to acquire their share of the family business, eagle-eyes viewers can piece those details together just from casual observation of earlier scenes. But not one element outshines the other. I wasn’t more interested in how these gargantuan Italian entrepreneurs ran their business versus their private lives, despite knowing from the beginning that this was a film that attempts to explain how their dynasty virtually collapses.
I’m torn as I’m writing this because elements of the film are truly excellent but so much of the movie I’m indifferent towards. Yes, Gaga and Pacino are great here, but then you have actors like Leto that directly clash with the tone the others are generating. The sets are wonderful and the fashion is impeccable, but it’s all shot so dispassionately. I want to like House of Gucci more than I did, but I just can’t. I don’t regret my time with the Guccis and their Italian eccentricities, and I do think that the elements that work REALLY work, but it’s not enough to make me eager to spend more time with them.