- Movie Rating -

The Sicilian (1987)

| October 23, 1987

I don’t normally do this, but I came to The Sicilian with a lot of outside baggage loaded in my head.  In short, all of the production problems and the history with the film’s director came with me to the screening.  This flies in the face of my rule to see every movie in a matter-of-fact way but in the case of Michael Cimino, it was kind of inevitable.  He is the director whose career was sandbagged after he allowed his production of Heaven’s Gate to run over-schedule by half a year and over-budget to the tune of $44 million, a move that virtually destroyed United Artists and put a knife in the auteur era.

Much like that film, The Sicilian was plagued with problems, mostly due to fights between the studio and the director and, much like Heaven’s Gate, what has come out the other end is a hulking mess.  This movie is over-stuffed, incoherent and seems to run on forever.

The Sicilian is based on a book by Mario Puzo (which I have read) that took place within the world of The Godfather during the time that Michael Corleone was hiding out in Sicily.  The movie reverts the events back a decade to the years before World War II and eliminates all connection to the Corleone family.  So, what we are left with is a story that is really hard to care about.

The book saw the struggle of the legendary real-life Sicilian bandit Salvatore Giuliano and his struggle to form a band of rebels who would reclaim land stolen and occupied by the mafia.  Obviously, this was a movie made with a grand vision.  You can see in the frame ambitions to capture the spirit of epics like Lawrence of Arabia and Spartacus.  But there’s no glory here.  The film is dark, gloomy and difficult to navigate.  One can feel the off-screen fights going on here, particularly Cimino’s battle over final cut – he brought in a movie that ran 150 minutes but was contracted to keep it under 2 hours.  Or the lawsuit brought by Gore Vidal over his screenplay, which then ran through more than a half a dozen writers.

The problem with the final result is that the characters all come off as wooden, like little gods upon the Earth who are laying claim to the land.  The key to The Godfather was that the characters were all-too-human, that they were not Movie Gangsters but a family in a very real sense living within there own microcosmic universe of law and power and democracy.  Here there is no one to care about.  What is the point of this story?  Who are we to care about?

Certainly we can’t feel for Salvatore, played by Christopher Lambert as a weird mixture of Spartacus and Jesus.  Early in the film, he is wounded by the local police when he tries to steal a cart of grain, he is taken to a Monastery where he thinks that he will die.  When he miraculously survives, he rises from the ashes to become the savior of his people – not that anyone asked.

This ‘Savior of the People’ narrative really moves against the larger story.  If you know the world that this movie takes place in, then you know that Salvatore’s efforts are basically fruitless.  If he succeeds at ridding Sicily of the mafia influence, then The Godfather never takes place.

Even at that, the issues of the Sicilians and the mob influence are best suited for a movie that gives us a day-to-day reality.  Here Cimino seems to want to push Salvatore’s story in the realm of myth and legend and make the hero almost supernatural.  That undercuts the violent justice wrought by the mafia and their wide-spread influence.  Even even THAT wouldn’t matter if the movie were at all coherant.  There are characters and motivations that seem cut off or left a total mystery.  There is dialogue here that seems inserted just for the sake of having dialogue.  And worse, the casting of Christopher Lambert in the lead.  He’s a French actor and model not suited for this material.  He’s not a very good actor and to give him material like this makes him look ridiculous.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1987) View IMDB Filed in: Action, Drama