Adagio is a thriller film of 2023 directed by Stefano Sollima, which thus closes the so-called “criminal Rome trilogy” which began with Criminal Romanzo – The series (2008-2010) and continued with Suburra (2015).
The film is set in Rome, on Christmas Day. Manuel is a 16 year old boy who lives in a family in financial difficulty. Manuel is a good and sensitive boy, but he is also a little naive and easily influenced.
One night, Manuel is involved in a murder. The murder was committed by a group of criminals trying to frame an innocent man. Manuel, unknowingly, becomes an uncomfortable witness.
The criminals begin to blackmail Manuel, threatening to kill his family if he doesn’t cooperate. Manuel is terrified, but is not willing to give in to blackmail.
Manuel begins to investigate the murder, trying to find out who the real culprit is. During his investigations, Manuel finds himself confronted with the reality of organized crime.
The plot of Adagio is simple but effective. The film follows the events of Manuel, a boy who finds himself involved in a world that is foreign to him. Manuel is an innocent boy, who has never had anything to do with organized crime. However, the murder he witnesses forces him to confront a reality he doesn’t know.
Manuel’s investigations lead him to discover the pitfalls of organized crime. Manuel realizes that violence and corruption are the basis of this world. Manuel sees with his own eyes how organized crime destroys people’s lives and society as a whole.
The film is well shot and edited, and the direction is engaging and compelling. Sollima creates a dark and oppressive atmosphere, which reflects the reality of organized crime.
Sollima’s direction is particularly effective in the action scenes. The scenes of violence are realistic and crude, conveying the brutality of organized crime.
The actors’ performances are one of Adagio’s strong points. Pierfrancesco Favino is perfect in the role of Manuel. Favino manages to convey the fragility and determination of a boy who has to grow up too quickly.
Toni Servillo is masterful in the role of the organized crime boss. Servillo creates a charismatic and dangerous character, who inspires fear and respect.
The other actors are also good in their performances. Valerio Mastandrea, Adriano Giannini, Gianmarco Franchini, Francesco Di Leva and Lorenzo Adorni give life to believable and realistic characters.
Adagio is shot technically impeccably, with bright lenses with a very open diaphragm: we see the characters in focus and everything around them appears blurry as in a nightmare, in a clouding of consciousness. Adagio is a hallucinated journey into a world that cannot be focused on, clouded by the fumes of the fire that burns Rome and which creates an apocalyptic scenario, by a suffocating heat that oppresses the city.
Rome burns and is a dirty, gloomy, leaden, corrupt city. We never see the Rome of The Great Beauty, except in the opening scene of the transgressive party: we see the suburbs, the Laurentino 38 where the leader of the corrupt Carabinieri gang lives, who at the beginning of the film watches the whole operation to frame the politician through a tablet, while preparing spaghetti for his two children, who are the only redemption of love for a character destined for damnation.
The boy doesn’t feel like continuing his mission and runs away from the party, scared by the cameras that are scattered everywhere. At that point he no longer has hope because the criminals have to eliminate him as he knows who they are and could report them.
All these narrative pretexts, if analyzed a little deeper, are rather weak and are clichés that we have already seen many times. The fact that Daniel’s escape starts this string of murders and manhunt seems unlikely because they don’t know why he ran away: he just hung up the phone.
Just as the initial facts that lead the criminals to hunt down a boy who is actually their collaborator and was chosen to carry out a mission as an accomplice in the operation to frame a high-level politician are completely plausible. A boy who could have betrayed them at any time even before the escape.
It is a pretext rather than a real plot twist, to get the action started. In reality there is little action in this film: the story remains minimal, as perhaps the title suggests, without ever becoming too spectacular, except in the final part, preferring to focus on the characters and their lives destined for damnation.
In the finale there is another “standard” scene: chase in the Tiburtina station in Rome with the crowd of people who are leaving and who find themselves in the middle of this manhunt involving “the camel”, played by Pierfrancesco Favino, Daniel and the corrupt cops who try everything to capture the boy.
The screenplay of “Adagio” is unconvincing and many plot twists are weak, pretexts to continue the story, such as when the camel tells the boy to leave Rome: an obvious thing that Daniel could have thought up on his own already halfway through movie. Sollima seems far from the structure of “Soldado”, the sequel to Sicario directed by Villeneuve, a much more successful film shot in the United States.
Here, however, the most appreciable part of the film is the photography, the solid direction without flaws at the service of the story. A “professional” director who does not reach great heights but who does all the work in a professional manner. Another strong point of the film are the characters: Favino. Mastrandrea and Servillo are in excellent form. The boy protagonist is less convincing as he has moments of uncertainty, over-acted and not very credible. But the performances of the 3 adult actors are remarkable.
Paul Newman played by Mastrandrea, a former criminal who has remained blind and who is the first to try to help the boy and then to be killed. The boy’s father, Servillo, played impeccably, and Favino, in a monstrous metamorphosis into a character who moans more than speaks, a cross between the Hunchback of Notredame and Nosferatu, moves hunched over, animalistic, wearing disturbing makeup .
Although it must be said that the way of acting in Roman dialect, with the words barely comprehensible, has reached its limits a bit: we have seen it too many times in often mediocre products and the time has come to invent another type of Roman underworld acting.
In summary Adagio is a good film, but it doesn’t deviate from the clichés of current mainstream production that the public likes, which gives a façade, an auteur film veneer to something that isn’t. The characters are written in a one-dimensional way, enraged by life, animalistic, dangerous, but they do not have the facets of a character that may appear realistic to us. Gomorra by Matteo Garrone is the polar opposite of this film, which does not in the slightest touch on that directorial intensity, those unforgettable faces and that human depth.
This crime saga, which began with Suburra, with Adagio has an approach that certainly does not bring it into the category of films not to be missed: it is a good product that can be enjoyed by the public, who are increasingly hypnotized by this model of cinema, and it falls into that category of films distributed on commercial platforms which are made trying to attract various target audiences, including cinephiles. Surely someone will contest these statements by saying “Enough with these distinctions between art cinema and commercial cinema, what reason do they have to exist? A film is a film!”.
Well, this is exactly what the apparatus, the trap we are in, wants us to believe: that there is a single basket and in this basket there is everything, from art cinema to the crime saga, to the TV series. They are two universes that want to be mixed and confused by those who manage the system, by those who distribute films globally, in order to definitively erase the idea of cinema as an art form.
But in reality they are two completely separate universes: the path of Art is a research of the author which then meets a path of search for identity, for meaning of life, for awareness. Entertainment cinema, even if done well as in this case, does not address the broader themes of human life and remains simply an interval of entertainment, a product to be consumed and quickly forgotten.