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Cesare (Luca Marinelli) and Vittorio (Alessandro Borghi) are a pair of twentysomething best friends, dancing, dealing, snorting and brawling their way around the Tyrrhenian coast of Rome in the late 1990s. Most of what they do or what they want to do involves scoring drugs, taking drugs, dealing drugs, and scoring some more drugs. Eat, sleep, rave, repeat. I mean, they’re fairly bloody violent for a couple of pillheads but, well, maybe that’s all the coke they hoover up like a pair of G-Tech Air Rams. I dunno. Anyway, this is their life, this has been their life and this, it would appear, will be their life for the foreseeable. They, and everybody they know, bicker and snap at one another ceaselessly, like velociraptors – when they’re not popping pills, snorting coke or hallucinating busloads of carny folk and mermaids, of course.
Then, Vittorio meets Linda (Roberta Mattei) and, as is so often the way with these things, everything changes. He gets a job – a real one, on a building site, as opposed to the street-level drug peddling he was doing previously – he lays off of the drugs and, subsequently, begins to drift from Cesare who, coincidentally, is becoming more chemically dependent as time moves on. Both miss their friend, but will Vittorio pull Cesare out of the murk into which he’s sinking and into the light, or will Cesare bring Vittorio down with him?
Writer/director Claudio Caligari was 67 when he made Non essere cattivo (aka Don’t Be Bad) in 2015 and, sadly, he died mere days after completing the editing process on the picture. He was not the most prolific of filmmakers; Non essere cattivo was only his third movie in 32 years having made Amore tossico (aka Toxic Love) in 1983 and L’odore della notte (aka The Scent of the Night) fifteen years later in 1998. Still, he remained theatrically consistent, with each of his movies depicting different elements of the underbelly of Rome. Toxic Love was about heroin addicts and their trials and tribulations on the streets of Italy’s capital from the center to the shores of Ostia (wherein Non essere cattivo is also largely set), and The Scent of the Night focused on a Roman cop turned fully to a life of crime.
Both of those movies were set in the decades in which they were made and, in this regard, Non essere cattivo differs slightly in that it’s a 21st century pic set in the 1990s, making it a period piece of sorts. It certainly feels as though Mr. Caligari was attempting almost to filter the redemptive facets of Brian De Palma’s Carlito’s Way (1993) through the kinetic lens of Danny Boyle’s smack-tacular Trainspotting (1996), although Non essere cattivo – selected as the Italian entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 2015 Oscars, although it ultimately didn’t make the cut – doesn’t come close to scaling the dramatic heights of either of those hedonistic monoliths. That doesn’t make it a bad film, of course; it’s an expertly-crafted piece featuring engaging performances across the board but particularly from Messrs. Marinelli and Borghi in the lead roles and, provided you have a great affinity for urban drug-fuelled lowlife crime capers, you’re going to find much to enjoy here. But, if you don’t, Non essere cattivo breaks no new ground in that area and will likely not be a movie for you.