Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
You know the good ol’ saying: The family that kidnaps and kills together, stays together. At least it’s true for the Puccio family at the center of the Argentinean true-crime tale, director/co-writer Pablo Trapero’s THE CLAN. I’ve already oversold this. It’s neither the gripping dramatic suspense nor the uproariously quirky comedy youmight hope it would be. It’s not even a cross-pollination of those genres. It is a plodding, lazy and ravishingly dull biopic about a vicious and genuinely fascinating crime family set in the early eighties.
Arquímedes Puccio (Guillermo Francella) is a middle-class, loving husband and father with a decent government job. But he also has a far more sinister side: he’s a stone cold killer, who, along with his crew, kidnaps and holds rich officials for ransom in the family’s home. His eldest, rugby superstar Alejandro/ Alex (Peter Lanzani), has been doing daddy’s dirty work for years, but now wants out to run his surf shop and canoodle with girlfriend Monica (Stefanía Koessl). However, Papa Puccio isn’t about to let him go anytime soon, as there’s money to be made off the upper class.
If 20th Century Fox chooses to remake this, and they really should, there’s a lot to improve upon. Despite being complex and fascinating figures, the Puccio family exhibits little to no character – and for inexplicable reasons, they aren’t allowed any arcs either. They are all barely one-dimensional. It’s maddening and mind-boggling why any of the characters portrayed weren’t richer, meatier and more vibrant. Francella looks the part – like a guy who could be a loving family man and a ruthless killer at the same time – and yet the material isn’t strong enough to carry this physical assertion. There are only two all-too-brief scenes that show him really turning the screws, manipulating Alex. The rest of the Puccio clan doesn’t fare well either, as they are tertiary characters in their own movie. Guillermo is mostly relegated to being set dressing at the dinner table, until he warns Alex to get out of dodge. Sister Adriana (Antonia Bengoechea) freaks out late in the film because she hears a hostage screaming constantly. She’s been privy to other homebound hostages before – why is she complaining now?! Magilla (Gastón Cocchiarale) shows up out of nowhere to re-join the clan. Mama Puccio (Lily Popovich) is always in the kitchen, and Monica is relegated to the girlfriend role.
The other glaring problem deals with the narrative’s lack of electricity. Trapero should learn that simply blasting period-specific rock and roll doesn’t make this sparkle like a Scorsese caper. There’s no Coppola-esque emotional heft to the father-son strife. Yelling and chaos don’t necessarily equate to compelling energy either. Just because there are intercuts between gratuitous sex and violence doesn’t make the story deeper – it just makes his techniques more transparent. It curdles rather than satiates.
Trapero, along with screenwriters Julian Loyola and Esteban Student, do a sufficient job setting the socio-political landscape and drawing parallels to the characters. The story takes place in Argentina during a time when the country struggled with its democratic identity after being under the rule of a dictatorship – similar to the way Alex struggles to establish his own identity under the rule of his dictatorial dad. Its subtleties are greatly appreciated. It’s just too bad the remainder of the film isn’t nearly as strong.
THE CLAN played AFI Fest on November 6 and 11. It opens in limited release on January 29, 2016.