House of Gucci is, I think, a movie in conflict with itself. On the one hand it is a glorious work of glossy trash: obscenely rich families fighting one another over control of the family business, eccentric cousins, disapproving fathers, television psychics, and one ambitious young woman marrying her way into the centre of it all. On the other hand, it is the latest feature from director Ridley Scott, photographed by the great Dariusz Wolski, and edited together by Oscar-winner Claire Simpson. Textually it is like a tabloid newspaper. Visually it’s fine art. More often than not the two do not blend together well.
There is an unavoidable sense that everybody involved is slumming it. Thanks to the COVID pandemic Scott had two features that hit cinemas a month apart. The first, The Last Duel, was a serious expression of truth in a time without evidence, and a portrayal of women living within an age without rights. By comparison House of Gucci simply feels like over-privileged Italians shouting at one another. There is no one in the cast who has not delivered better work someplace else. That includes Adam Driver as Maurizio Gucci – heir to half of the family fortune but studiously avoiding involvement in their prestigious fashion dynasty. It includes Jeremy Irons as Maurizio’s cadaverous father Rodolfo and Al Pacino as his gregarious uncle Aldo. It even includes Lady Gaga, so immediately engaging in A Star is Born but oddly mannered and out of her depth here as Maurizio’s new bride Patrizia. Accents are occasionally a problem. Pacino and Driver do fine. Irons and Gaga struggle somewhat. There is no shaking the fact that this is an Italian story played out by a cast of (Irons excepted) Americans.
Accents are a problem, but Jared Leto is a palpable crisis. Playing Aldo’s disgraced son Paolo – desperate to participate but critically incompetent – he takes his accent from the Super Mario Bros School of Italian Studies and his performance from the back of a cereal box. It is crudely exaggerated, exacerbated by a silly wig and facial prosthetics, and wildly at odds with the rest of the film. It seems deeply strange that an actor so regularly cast in Hollywood features, and who is so regularly feted, can be so wildly inconsistent from role to role. Sadly House of Gucci loses out; this is a terrible bit of acting.
Sadly in the battle between pulp and prestige, the film’s running time leans towards the latter. By stretching over 158 minutes it bleeds pace and urgency. There is a tight, entertaining 100-minute film here, but the extra hour dilutes its effect. There is also the problem that anyone with a passing knowledge of the Gucci dynasty knows where the story is going. There is no suspense; in a more carefully composed drama that sense of inevitability would have been palpable. Despite Scott’s attempts to shift in that direction, what should be inevitable simply feel predictable instead.
Between Ridley Scott’s 2021 pictures it is easy to recommend The Last Duel all of the way. House of Gucci simply does not work well enough to be fully worth the time spent in watching it. It is not a complete disaster, but it is muddled and ordinary. It is a terrible disappointment.