‘True crime’ films are, of course, nothing of the sort. The messy reality of events is neatened up and causality is created. This is even more likely when it’s based on an autobiography, as ‘Angel of Evil’ is.
For example, in a gruesome scene a jailed Vallanzasca swallows nails embedded in chewing gum so that he’s sent to hospital for treatment. In reality, he ate rotten eggs and injected himself with urine to mimic hepatitis. Same outcome, rather less cinematic cause. In another sequence he’s shown as condoning the murder of an informant during a prison riot: that the informant was beheaded and Vallanzasca played football with the head is skipped over.
Vallanzasca (or rather, the actor playing him) narrates parts of the story in voiceover, setting himself up as someone who cannot bear restrictions. As a child he releases a tiger from a traveling circus visiting near his house, and is sent to reform school. Even at this age, he has his gang around him, including ‘little brother’ Enzo and ‘little sister’ Antonella (they’re not actual siblings).
As an adult, Enzo is an unstable violence-prone liability in Vallanzasca’s Bande de Comasina whilst Antonella works for Vallanzasca’s rival crime lord, Turatello.
The implication of the film is that events spiraled out of Vallanzasca’s control, resulting in him taking the fall for crimes committed by members of his gang. Yet the raw facts are Vallanzasca’s gang was responsible for over 70 armed robberies in less than a year, at least four kidnappings, and at least seven murders.
What comes over most strongly from the film is that he enjoyed his notoriety. Kim Rossi Stuart, as Vallanzasca, conveys this idea of cocky charm brilliantly despite some quite frighteningly bad – if accurate – sweaters. This is a criminal who paused whilst on the run to record a radio interview.
The film opens strongly, with a prison beating interspersed with flashbacks to Vallanzasca’s rise to infamy. It’s wonderfully shot throughout, with colour grading to suggest the 70s (all amber and smoked glass) and the 80s (all blues and greys). It has a strong narrative hook with the shifting relationships between Vallanzasca, Enzo and Antonella.
But it’s not the full true story. It excuses Vallanzasca, it excludes some of his less charming actions, and it fictionalises. It’s hard not to think this is because it’s based on an autobiography: it’s the cinematic equivalent of a paper self-justification.
I saw this as part of the London Italian Film Festival 2011. If you enjoy crime films, especially of the ‘Goodfellas’, ‘Blow’ or ‘Gangs of New York’ style, then it’ll be well worth tracking down on its UK release in May.