Presumably after the enjoyable sleeper hit that was Ordinary Love, Liam Neeson was keen as ever to prove we can take him seriously in the role of a disconnected husband or ill-fated father. He plays such roles with conviction, his break away from the genre of action-packed blockbusters has shown a new side to his craft, one that has shied away ever since his role in Schindler’s List. That serious side to his abilities as an actor aren’t wholly on show in solid action flicks like Taken or Darkman, but they show his general abilities well. We’ve gotten intermittent dashings of this ability to elevate himself to that stage of “fine performances” and “fine movies” moving hand in hand with one another, rather than one or the other, as many of his films tend to offer. So, for all its negligence to conventional, presentable storytelling, it is nice to see that Made in Italy offers us a role for Neeson that isn’t gun-toting lunacy.
Instead, he plays a reserved, quiet painter, estranged somewhat from a son in the process of divorce, one who never forgave his father after the death of his mother. It’s all played out in such a drab, conventional fashion, you’ll be wishing this dynamic were over long before the credits roll. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, the artificial conflict between our two leading men never veering off of the beaten track. Ordinary Love from only the year prior stands a head above this pitiful outing, his small role in Husbands and Wives is far more entertaining, interesting, and infatuated with the people and pleasure that surrounds his character than any moment here. Forced poignancy and emotional manipulation featured around every corner, with primitive direction and forced scenes that attempt to heighten the barebones drama.
As for the rest of the cast, there’s nothing to write home about. They grapple as best they can with a script that feels like it riffs on the more complacent measures of the genre, whilst at the same time using its location as an excuse to take in the luxuries of the country, parading them around on the screen with minimal connection to our characters. Lindsay Duncan’s appearance feels rather futile, with nothing of great interest to do, aside from play the “will they, won’t they?” game with Neeson. Director James D’Arcy deals with grief and rekindling family dynamics with as droll and predictable a style as possible. The idea that reconciliation is the first step toward the healing of loss, it’s all a tad strange and orchestrated with a real disconnect between characters and writing.
With praise for its conventional nature pouring in, perhaps I should be a tad more satisfied with the fact that Made in Italy doesn’t derail itself from a tediously trodden path. Relying solely on what little chemistry in can muster, this directorial debut from James D’Arcy will have you tasting the bitter grapes of Italian country life, with Liam Neeson at the centre of it all, doing his best to hold everything together, as he often finds himself doing within his lesser appreciated projects. It’s as complacent as you’d expect, a style of storytelling that has been done far better, elsewhere.