The com­mon opin­ion on Michael Cimino’s career is that it was killed by the air of ego-dri­ven fias­co that sur­round­ed Heaven’s Gate.  However, a look at his fil­mog­ra­phy shows he direct­ed anoth­er four fea­tures films after a post–Heaven’s Gate lull.  Those sub­se­quent films reveal that the decline of his direct­ing career was a grad­u­al one that hap­pened in stages.  In ret­ro­spect, The Sicilian seems like the point of no return for Cimino, the moment where his ten­den­cy for the overblown moved too far from what Hollywood found bank­able and what audi­ences found enter­tain­ing.

Sicil-bluThe Sicilian is adapt­ed from a Mario Puzo nov­el: said book was con­nect­ed to The Godfather by a fram­ing device fea­tur­ing Michael Corleone but that had to be dropped for the film ver­sion.  Instead, this film focus­es strict­ly on the rise and fall of real-life ban­dit Salvatore Giuliano (Christopher Lambert), a Sicilian who revolts again­st how the wealthy and author­i­ties treat peas­ants in post-WWII Sicily.  With his friend Pisciotta (John Turturro), Salvatore defies local mafia king­pin Don Masino (Joss Ackland) and steals from the rich to help the poor buy land.  However, he soon dis­cov­ers that the life of an out­law is vio­lent and dan­ger­ous — and the pow­ers that be will do all they can stop his rise.

As the above syn­op­sis indi­cates, The Sicilian reach­es for an arc of oper­at­ic tragedy but instead winds up at a lev­el of camp because its ges­tures are hol­low.  Despite a sur­face lev­el of com­plex­i­ty, Steve Shagan’s script (penned with an uncred­it­ed assist from Gore Vidal) duti­ful­ly trudges through a num­ber of rise-and-fall crime clichés that you’ll see com­ing from a mile away.  The dia­logue is also packed with lines that are clunky and pre­ten­tious all at once, with each key scene hav­ing at least one line that will leave the viewer’s jaw on the floor.

Cimino’s direc­tion gives the film an appro­pri­ate­ly epic look, with lots of sweep­ing cam­er­a­work from Alex Thomson and gor­geous Italian loca­tions, but the results come off as over­wrought instead of emo­tion­al­ly sear­ing.  Each key dra­mat­ic moment is suf­fo­cat­ed by an overblown orches­tral score by David Mansfield and the self-con­scious artsi­ness of Cimino’s direc­tion just under­scores the shop­worn nature of his nar­ra­tive.

To make mat­ters worse, Lambert is ter­ri­bly mis­cast and gives a wood­en per­for­mance that makes all the wor­ship and fear he inspires in the oth­er char­ac­ters seem bizarre.  Turturro and Ackland acquit them­selves well but the fact that vir­tu­al­ly every actor sup­pos­ed­ly play­ing an Italian has a dif­fer­ent acceSicil-01nt gives the dra­ma an unin­tend­ed sur­re­al edge.  Other notable odd per­for­mances here include Terence Stamp as an Italian aris­to­crat with a posh English accent and Barbara Sukowa play­ing a maneat­ing Duchess who fre­quent­ly strips down to play an “over­sexed rich wom­an” cliché.

In short, The Sicilian is the kind of bad movie that is hyp­notic because it man­ages to merge gor­geous crafts­man­ship with shock­ing clue­less­ness about what makes a good crime dra­ma.  The push-pull nature of the­se ele­ments are like­ly to make this film appeal­ing to camp clas­sic devo­tees.

Blu-Ray Notes: Cimino com­pletists will be hap­py to know this title is now avail­able as a blu-ray in the U.S. from Shout! Factory.  The trans­fer is a dra­mat­ic improve­ment over pre­vi­ous U.S. home video ver­sions, offer­ing the full Cinemascope imagery with new lev­els of col­or and clar­i­ty.  Fans will be hap­py to know this is the director’s cut and offers 31 min­utes of footage cut from the U.S the­atri­cal release: there are fluc­tu­a­tions in image qual­i­ty that prob­a­bly reflect the rein­state­ment of this footage but the trans­fer is most­ly impres­sive for a non-spe­cial edi­tion release.  The orig­i­nal 2.0 stereo mix is pre­sent­ed in loss­less form and sounds nice and clean.  There are no extras.