Scored to death by weeping strings and an extremely lost-sounding trombone, Marco Turco’s Cosa Nostra documentary undercuts its own impact with histrionics. The subject matter, from the 1995 account by journalist Alexander Stille (who also narrates) of Sicilian corruption during the 1980s, is gripping enough. Racked by mob violence, Palermo saw the rise of two courageous prosecutors, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who tried many culprits before their own assassinations in 1992. Since then, crime has strongly rebounded, with collusion allegedly going as high up as Berlusconi.
Turco is strongest when he sticks to unvarnished facts, like photojournalist Letizia Battaglia’s stark b&w murder shots or the specially designed concrete courtroom where Palermo’s landmark “maxi trial” would be held. But you quickly thirst for more hard data. Surviving judicial colleagues are interviewed at point-blank range in order to capture every tear. Melodrama even seeps into Stille’s narration; he calls organized crime both “a cancer” and “not a mysterious anthropological force”—which is it? Another film by the same name, an HBO docudrama starring Chazz Palminteri and F. Murray Abraham, aired in 1999. One suspects Turco’s overheated passions would have had better traction there. Without identification, he includes several clips from the dramatization. (Now playing; Film Forum.) — Joshua Rothkopf