Actor James D’Arcy (Cloud Atlas, Dunkirk) trades hair & makeup for lights, camera & action with his directorial debut Made In Italy, a subtle drama starring real-life father and son Liam Neeson and Micheál Richardson.
When 20-something Jack (Richardson) is told that the art gallery he manages in London is being sold, he makes a desperate bid to make quick money by convincing his estranged father, Robert (Neeson), to sell the abandoned family house they have in Tuscany. Robert reluctantly agrees and the two men travel to Italy to assess the property with hopes of restoring it to sell. Upon arrival, they discover a weathered and decapitated home, much to Jack’s disappointment and Robert’s relief.
With an arduous task ahead, Jack knuckles down and attempts to get the house in order, while Robert treats his time more casually, in a state of meditation and reflection. Predictably, their time together becomes one of bonding, as both men come to terms with the loss of their beloved wife and mother, Raffaela.
Ordinarily the conventional nature of Made in Italy would be to its detriment. It’s a familiar synopsis, which relies on tropes and motifs, however in this instance the story comes with the added weight of its real life parables.
Eleven years have passed since Natasha Richardson’s tragic death in a skiing accident, and with similar circumstances seeing Neeson’s fictional wife die in the film, there’s a genuine emotional weight that comes with the father/son performance. Neeson gives a notably sincere turn, which has him balance the gruff persona we might know from films like Taken and The Grey with the soft-natured tenancies of his characters from Love Actually and Nell.
Richardson did not inherit the natural gift of performance from his parents, however, and the strength of his part in the film is reliant on his real-life heritage. Had there been no personal investment in the story, his performance would certainly draw harsher criticisms.
The cinematography is lovely and the beauty of Tuscany is captured well. Yet on the same note, one also can’t help but think of how much more beautiful the landscapes might have been was a seasoned director at the helm, rather than a freshman. While D’arcy has – wisely – chosen a simple story to hone his writing and filmmaking skills on, there’s a perpetual sense that what we’re watching could have been so much more. It could have been deeper. It could have been funnier. And it could have been more poignant.
Nevertheless, Made in Italy is a nice sentiment, with all but Neeson giving passable turns. Neeson, to that respect, is excellent and lifts the film to a higher regard than it deserves. Seasoned cinephiles might balk at the convention and lament the lack of depth, however casual moviegoers with a love of melodrama ought to get a whole lot more out of it.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★✩✩
‘Made in Italy’ was released in the US in limited cinemas and VOD on August 7th and is in limited Australian cinemas from August 13th.