2021 brought us not one but two films from cinematic world-builder Sir Ridley Scott. The Last Duel was a medieval thriller that had contemporary hottopics and felt powerfully prescient. House of Gucci meanwhile came in as more divisive, a film that doesn’t so much tackle an issue as paint a lurid picture of the disintegration of an empire.
Patricia Reggani (Lady Gaga) is a woman from a humble background, helping her father run his truck business she encounters Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) at a party. Her obvious attraction to his name sets in motion a parting of ways between Maurizio and his father Rodolfo Gucci (Jeremy Irons) the man behind the elite fashion label. But Patricia’s ambition knows no bounds and before long Maurizio is back in the family fold, with the support of uncle Aldo (Al Pacino), and the couple set in place plans to rule the fashion world.
Going into Gucci it would help to know a little bit about the family and Reggani, specifically the way things rapidly unspooled around one of the world’s most iconic brands. Going in cold certainly paints a fascinating picture but might leave some wondering what is going on. The film, like its characters, is frequently chaotic. Scott, as is his way, immerses us in the opulence of the Gucci existence but at times struggles to wrangle what is a complicated story with even more complicated characters.
As you would expect of a film about Gucci the costumes are stunning, the ‘80s pop soundtrack never anything less than transportive and Scott’s visuals drenched in an aesthetic he arguably hasn’t visited since back in his commercial directing days. In many ways House Of Gucci is aspiring to be a cinematic Succession (as if that show is not the most cinematic of television). It explores very similar themes of power corrupting, money warping and a struggle for control of an empire that can only ever lead to heartbreak or worse.
The problem is that while Succession does so much of this with a dry, bleak and sharply comedic tone House Of Gucci is often a little too po-faced. Yes, there are moments of levity, nice lines of dialogue that hint a darker sense of humour but they are few and far between so for the most part Gucci often feels like a re-telling of events. Which is strange when you consider you have a global iconic fashion label being squabbled over by a group of ego-maniacs one of whom is consulting a psychic to guide them.
The performances are all solid. Driver is given the difficult job of playing Maurizio shy and reclusive one moment and then ambitious and cutthroat the next, his character doesn’t so much develop as do a complete 180 without much explanation why. Jared Leto, as Paolo Gucci, has garnered a lot of press but his performance is fine. It’s nothing special and hiding behind that amount of make-up often means you’re not really aware it’s him. The film however is once again an example of the talents of Lady Gaga. Her portrayal of Patricia is wonderfully flamboyant. Feline one minute, Lady Macbeth the next before spiraling into paranoia and rage. In many ways it is her manic energy that ties Gucci together.
Grand without ever feeling big enough, House Of Gucci is a fascinating insight into the people who built and nearly destroyed an empire.