Photograph: Venice Film Festival
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4 out of 5 stars

Stefano Sollima’s slow burn gangster thriller is a macho but quietly compelling requiem to a dying breed

Phil de Semlyen

Time Out says

With Adagio, the clue is in the title. If you like your crime thrillers full of screeching tyres, high-octane shootouts and the heady whiff of cordite, Suburra director Stefano Sollima’s latest delve into Italy’s murky underworld probably isn’t for you. Like the musical style it’s named after, it plays slowly. But hang in there and you’ll find an enthralling requiem mass to a dying breed of hardscrabble gangsters and dirty cops that boasts a clutch of juicy performances.

Manuel (Gianmarco Franchini) is a wide-eyed, shaven-headed teenager caught up in a blackmail racket. A trio of dirty cops, led by the ruthless Vasco (Adrian Giannini), have dirt on the kid and force him into a nightclub to covertly film a mysterious man in drag. But when Manuel discovers that the party is bugged and he’s been filmed doing coke, he flees before the job is done. He takes refuge at the door of Polniuman (Valeria Mastandrea), a blind gangster who knows better than most what will follow. ‘You’re in deep shit,’ he tells the boy.

In truth, everyone in this crumbling world is in deep shit – from those increasingly desperate cops to the trio of ageing criminals who are drawn unwillingly back into action. As with his patchy Hollywood thriller Sicario 2: Soldado, Sollima charts violent forces that, once unleashed, can’t be stopped, only embraced.

It’s an enthralling requiem mass to a dying breed of hardscrabble gangsters and dirty cops 

Backdropped by the crimson glow of wildfires raging outside the Eternal City, the cause of frequent power cuts, Adagio radiates with a menacing, apocalyptic energy. That clever device of cutting the power arms the film with a nice edge of unpredictability – one life-or-death struggle plays out when an apartment is suddenly plunged into darkness – as, too, does the unusual setting. Sollima shows us a side of Rome – all sun-baked tenements and the shadows of its freeways – that’s never appeared on any postcard: a labyrinth the naive but impetuous Manuel must navigate to stay alive.  

Arguably, it lacks a jolt or two of adrenaline – at least, until the visceral crescendo – but the cast of Italian acting greats do more than keep the power on. Toni Sevillo, as Manuel’s dementia-suffering dad Daytona, and Pierfrancesco Favino, a hunched, bald ex-con known as The Camel, are their usual compelling selves, both near-unrecognisable as ageing gangsters with major beef. When these two are around, a film can take its sweet time. 

Adagio premiered at the Venice Film Festival.

Cast and crew

  • Director:Stefano Sollima
  • Screenwriter:Stefano Sollima, Stefano Bises
  • Cast:
    • Toni Servillo
    • Pierfrancesco Favino
    • Adriano Giannini
    • Emilio Franchini
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