The makers of Black Souls, a superior Italian gangster movie, deserve praise for executing with atypical sensitivity a generic times-are-changing/nostalgia-for-an-imaginary-chivalrous-yesteryear scenario. Like most post-Godfather Mafia dramas, Black Souls concerns an ambivalent protagonist — in this case, gruff goat-herder Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane) — who has a love/hate relationship with his family’s unspoken, honor-bound traditions.
Luciano, the eldest of three brothers, cares for siblings Rocco (Peppino Mazzotta) and Luigi (Marco Leonardi). But Luciano doesn’t want anything to do with their drug-smuggling business or their shaky alliance with Don Peppe, the man who killed Luciano’s father. Luciano is forced to do something after his trigger-happy son Leo (Giuseppe Fumo) insinuates himself into Luigi and Rocco’s schemes. Luciano’s conflict — he knows he’s expected to behave diplomatically around Peppe since Luciano’s the family’s de facto patriarch — largely plays out in naturalistic long takes.
Director Francesco Munzi (The Rest of the Night) gives the film’s no-frills dialogue extra weight by emphasizing quiet scenes of characters thinking, pacing, or just brooding. By making every pause feel third-trimester pregnant, Munzi gets you to forget that you’ve seen these types of characters a million times before and can therefore anticipate their actions.
In the grim and violent finale, protagonists decide their fates with genuine indecision, making Black Souls the kind of gangster movie that other Mob films aspire to be.