Angel of Evil is a gripping study of a career criminal as he robs banks, escapes prisons, and breaks hearts throughout the 1970s, becoming something of a folk hero to his nation. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the film’s subject matter and execution is nearly identical to the two-part French film Mesrine. Both are based on true crime stories, both feature commanding lead performances requiring their actors to portray the charming criminals aging over a couple of decades, leaving language as the biggest difference between the two. If you’ve already seen Mesrine, you’ll surely suffer some serious déjà vu here, but Angel of Evil is just as accomplished and still intriguing as a study of how an unrepentant criminal can be a sympathetic character and become a star in his home country.
Kim Rossi Stuart plays Italian baddie Renato Vallanzasca, a cunning bank robber who works his way through Milan before venturing further afield, usually eluding capture but capable of escaping jail when imprisoned. His early exploits play out in the ’70s, providing ample opportunity for period attire, hairstyles, and cars. He builds a criminal crew to assist in his daring robberies, but as his fame and notoriety grow he has to deal with rifts within his ranks as well as friction with a criminal kingpin. He also has to learn how to navigate through and out of the criminal justice system during his short stints there, managing to survive and thrive in spite of the ever-present danger of death.
Stuart is electric in the role, every bit as effective as Vincent Cassel in Mesrine, bringing a believable soulfulness to the seemingly shifty Vallanzasca character. That’s fortunate, because he carries the film almost entirely by himself with only temporary assists from the other characters who pass through Vallanzasca’s life. It’s a gritty, exhausting role to be sure, but Stuart exudes star quality throughout and ensures that we care about seeing the character through to his inevitable comeuppance.
Angel of Evil is now available on DVD from Fox World Cinema. The sole bonus feature is a lengthy look behind the scenes including interviews in English with some of the cast members including Stuart.