Black Souls Isn't The Most Original Mob Thriller, But Its Creepy Tone Is Tough To Deny.

Black Souls.
Director: Francesco Munzi.
Writers: Francesco Munzi, Maurizio Braucci, Fabrizio Ruggirello.
Actors: Marco Leonardi, Peppino Mazzotta, Fabrizio Ferracane, Giuseppe Fumo.
Opens at: Angelika Dallas, Angelika Plano.

The Italian mob film Black Souls is not The Godfather. Nor it it Goodfellas or, for that mater, even its fellow Italian crime thriller, Gomorrah.

It just doesn't quite belong in the lofty company of those films — not only because it’s slightly derivative of them, but also because it has lower ambitions. And yet, the slow-burning Black Souls, even without much of a plot to speak of, works on other levels, and proves itself an engaging watch in the process.

This, perhaps, is mostly due to the fact that this film's less focused on violence and more on its effects.

It shows this by centering around brothers Luigi (Marco Leonardi) and Rocco (Peppino Mazzotta), who sit near the upper rung of organized crime in Italy, dealing arms and drugs all over the globe. But while they've got the opulent lifestyle to show for their efforts, not all is right in their world. Their older brother Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane), for instance, has fully disavowed the family business, retreating instead to his ranch in a small coastal town.

It's tough luck for Luciano, then, that his no-good punk son Leo (Giuseppe Fomo) has his eyes set on his uncles’ riches. Leo's eager to become a made man himself, but his penchant for brash outbursts makes him a liability rather than an asset. And as violence begets more violence, blood ends up on nearly everyone’s hands, both figuratively and literally.

To be sure, Black Souls is an appropriately ominous title for a movie that's steeped in such expect grimness. What separates this one from the pack, though, is its lush cinematography and evocative sound design. It's though these efforts that Black Souls crafts the unshakable sense that there's always something sinister nearby.

It's a real feat to control tone like that, but director Francesco Munzi deftly pulls it off — and with some panache, at that. In one scene, a priest recites the grueling Psalm 51: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” It's a moment meant to remind the audience that this film's violence, though so often offscreen, is always present.

Make no mistake: If you've seen one mob movie, you've probably seen them all. But it's Black Souls compelling tone that makes returning to the genre worth it this time through.

Grade: B.

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