Tracking a Life of Crime in 'Romanzo Criminale'

Mar. 15, 2017
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Some young punks in contemporary Rome are not content to rob a gray-haired old man of his money but, knocking him to the ground, beat and kick him bloody. Next scene: the old man has washed the blood from his face and returns with a gun, dispatching his tormentors with sure aim and swift justice. Flashback 40 years to a face in the mirror—a young face then with a ragged mop of black hair, the face of a young punk ready to become a crime lord.

It’s the opening scene of “Romanzo Criminale,” a popular Italian TV show spun off from the 2005 film of the same name. All 22 episodes are out on a pair of DVDs that track the story of a crime gang from the ‘70s through the ‘90s. At the start, they are wannabe wiseguys in Rome, living with their parents and hard pressed even to hotwire a truck. They begin by heisting 50 Olivetti typewriters but their leader, called Il Lebanese, has a vision to match his ambition. He wants to be crime boss in Italy’s capital.

“Romanzo Criminale” suggests that while crime can pay big, there are no perfect crimes. Il Lebanese proceeds up a ladder of bungled yet profitable jobs. He believes in investing his ill-gotten money, not blowing it on cars, clothes and girls. There is comedy: when one of his minions phones in a ransom demand, he stuffs his mouth with cotton to mimic a Sardinian accent (and throw off the police investigation).

The story unfolds against changing times in the Eternal City, starting with Red Brigade assassinations and recurring riots in the streets. Not unlike Britain’s “Peaky Blinders” and other recent television criminals, the determination of the protagonists to hurdle the obstacles holds interest episode after episode.

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