MADE IN ITALY: Neeson in Tuscany
* * * (out of four)
In 2009, Liam Neeson lost his wife, actress Natasha Richardson, after a terrible skiing accident.
A member of the Richardson-Redgrave clan, which includes more than a dozen entertainment figures spanning several generations (Tony Richardson, Michael Redgrave, Vanessa Redgrave, etc.), she left behind not only a grieving husband, but also two sons -- one of whom legally changed his surname in honor of the late actress.
Now young Micheal Richardson stars with his father in the straight-to-streaming family drama “Made in Italy”; it’s the tale of an estranged widower and his son who reconnect while restoring an Italian villa that’s been in the family for ages.
The film has received notably lukewarm reviews, and indeed it is sometimes clunky and trite; but on the whole, “Made in Italy” works pretty well, buoyed by solid performances and lovely Tuscan scenery.
Richardson plays Jack Foster, a London art curator whose marriage is on the rocks; worse, his surly young wife -- who happens to own the gallery -- has fired him despite his success in booking artists. Anxious to retain his position by buying out the establishment, Jack contacts his absentee father, who has never visited the gallery -- even though this parent is himself a well-known painter.
Jack convinces Dad to travel with him to Italy and work on selling the family villa -- which, it turns out, is in a state of horrific disrepair; but of course, “it’s got good bones.”
You just knew somebody was going to say that -- probably more than once. And indeed, this is the film’s only major flaw: The hackneyed, herky-jerky dialog feels like it was written by a high school sophomore. “Italy’s” early driving scene is squirmingly awful, though things eventually do get smoother and more believable -- thanks largely to Neeson and son.
The former pretty much won me over in the late-film scene discussing how Mom died; you just have to wonder how much of his own grief Neeson was channeling in this powerful scene. (For that matter, I think he’s been partly channeling it even in his long recent spate of action films -- which may be why those titles appeal to both women and men.)
Richardson consistently underplays, with an effective hangdog mien that occasionally breaks open as he comes to realize how damaged his childhood was, and how he still needs to grieve.
Father and son get good help from Lindsay Duncan as a no-nonsense house agent and Italian actress-model Valeria Bilello as Jack’s love interest. First-rate acting should be no surprise here, as the film was directed by the very busy performer James D’Arcy (“Dunkirk,” “Endgame”).
“Italy” marks a commendable directorial debut for D’Arcy, and I doubt it will be his last such effort; but in future features, he might want some help with dialog.
“Made in Italy,”
directed by James D’Arcy
Run time: 93 min.
Rated R for language