Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: James D’Arcy
Stars: Liam Neeson, Michael Richardson, Valeria Bilello, Lindsay Duncan.
Liam Neeson stars opposite his real-life son Michael Richardson in this enjoyable but somewhat predictable and occasionally mawkish drama dealing with grief, loss, regrets, guilt, second chances, ambition, family and complicated father/son relationships.
Jack Foster (Richardson) manages a posh art gallery in London which is owned by his soon to be ex-wife and her family. When they announce that they are selling the gallery, Jack wants to buy her out. To do so though he reaches out to his estranged father Robert Foster (Neeson), a once successful and famous artist who has disappeared from the public consciousness and wallows in lots of alcohol, one night stands and self-pity. Jack wants to sell off the Tuscan villa that he and Robert inherited from Robert’s late wife Rafaella who was killed in a car accident many years earlier. The house holds a mix of happy and yet painful memories for Jack.
Neither Robert nor Jack have seen the house for nearly twenty years. But when the pair arrive at the villa they find it lies in a state of disrepair. It is dusty and musty and much of the furniture lies in ruins. There are holes in the roof, no electricity or hot water, and there is an animal hiding in the cupboards. One wall is covered in a garish mural that Robert painted to express his grief, and he flatly refuses to paint over it. They decide to do a quick renovation to get the house ready for sale. The crumbling house is a nice visual metaphor for the broken relationship between Jack and his father. The job of repairing the house brings the pair closer together and they learn a few truths about the past.
And Jack meets Natalia (Valeria Bilello, from tv series Sense8, etc), who works as a chef at a local restaurant. She is a divorcee with a young daughter of her own, and a possible romantic connection with her also holds out hope for a new beginning.
Given his own 2009 tragedy, there are elements of this film that make it deeply personal for Neeson and probably cut close. This also lends something of a melancholic tone to the material. Made In Italy makes for a nice change of pace from the series of adrenaline-charged action thrillers in which he has recently appeared and allows him to explore a range of emotions. He and Richardson appeared together in the thriller Cold Pursuit, but their pairing here adds to the onscreen dynamic and brings both a warmth and authenticity to their occasionally prickly dynamic that enhances the emotional drama. His role here allows the always reliable Neeson to show a gentler side to his on-screen persona and he mellows his usually gruff demeanour. Richardson delivers a solid performance, but he doesn’t have the charisma or charm of his father. Bilello has a nice warm presence that is well used, while Lindsay Duncan (Le Weekend, etc) is great as Kate, the acerbic ex-pat real estate agent that Robert engages to try and sell the house.
Made In Italy has been written and directed by actor turned filmmaker James D’Arcy (who appeared in films like Dunkirk, etc), who makes a solid directorial debut here. He maintains a gentle pace throughout that suits the material perfectly. The film is a little predictable and cliched, but that doesn’t dilute the pleasures of the experience of spending two hours in the company of Neeson and co in the picturesque Tuscan hills. There are also little moments of visual humour that punctuate the drama.
The film has been beautifully shot on location around Montalcino near Siena in Italy by veteran cinematographer Mike Eley (the recent remake of My Cousin Rachel, etc), who captures the magnificent undulating hills of Tuscany, and immerses us in the sights, sounds and culture of Tuscany. There is also some great production design from Stevie Herbert (tv series Spooks, etc) that recreates the interior of the villa. The sights, sounds and cuisine of Tuscany may be enough to make you plan your next holiday when international travel is again permitted.
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