I recently survived a screening of the two-hour-and-37-minute film that is House of Gucci. The shiny, ambitious, beautifully filmed and costumed tale of greed and murder is stunning by the sheer number of stars that have been cast. The movie rivals the nighttime soap Dynasty for subtlety but does so with a much bigger budget. Directed by master filmmaker Ridley Scott and starring Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Jared Leto, and Salma Hayek, the film is … well, I’m still not quite sure what it is exactly, but somehow I felt as though I had lived through a hurricane when I left the theater. Was it a farce or a gripping tale of greed? I often laughed out loud, but was I supposed to?
I must preface my thoughts by stating that my opinion is perhaps biased. I knew Maurizio Gucci well and worked with him for four of the years that are covered in this film. He was murdered on the morning of March 27, 1995, just steps away from my office in Milan.
Had I not been at our offices in Florence that day, I would certainly have heard the shots that killed him. I also knew many of the other players in this saga and was interviewed on multiple occasions for the book that was the source material for the film, so it is hard for me to divorce reality from the glossy, heavily lacquered soap opera that I witnessed on-screen. As with most films based on a true story, facts are altered, characters are exaggerated, timelines warped—and, in the end, who cares as long as these alterations yield a great movie?
The movie rivals Dynasty for subtlety but does so with a much bigger budget.
Maurizio was much more interesting in life than his depiction in the film suggests. He could be incredibly charming and surprisingly sexy if you caught him when he was relaxed. He had a true vision for the company but had a hard time focusing. He was mercurial. He would be in a meeting, slip into the bathroom, and come back a completely different person. He was straight as far as I know, but would spend hours in the afternoons locked in his office with his decorator and often disappeared for weeks at a time on his boat with the man. He nobly wanted Gucci to once again be the Italian Hermès of his childhood. Sadly, he was a terrible businessman, and he squeezed the company dry. He often tied up the entire design team for weeks making new uniforms for the crew of his yacht, Creole, rather than leaving us alone to design the collection.
As the on-screen Maurizio, Adam Driver, the leading man of the moment, gives a subtle and nuanced performance. He is the calm in the eye of the storm that swirls around him as his fellow actors all battle to see who can chew up the most scenery. At times, when Al Pacino, as Aldo Gucci, and Jared Leto, as Aldo’s son Paolo Gucci, were on-screen, I was not completely sure that I wasn’t watching a Saturday Night Live version of the tale. Pacino delivers a commanding but very, very large portrayal of Aldo, who by all accounts was an elegant and savvy businessman who transformed a Florentine family business into a global brand, but who had a slight aversion to paying his taxes.
Leto’s brilliance as an actor is literally buried under latex prosthetics. Both performers are given license to be absolute hams—and not of the prosciutto variety. They must have had fun. Paolo, whom I met on several occasions, was indeed eccentric and did some wacky things, but his overall demeanor was certainly not like the crazed and seemingly mentally challenged character of Leto’s performance. However, Leto as Paolo does have some of the best lines in the film and manages to actually piss on the famed Gucci Flora scarf created for Princess Grace. I was jealous of that. It was something that I always wanted to do myself, as I was constantly being asked to try to revive that damned scarf.
He often tied up the entire design team for weeks making new uniforms for the crew of his yacht, Creole, rather than leaving us alone to design the collection.
Jeremy Irons, as Rodolfo Gucci, Maurizio’s father, is terrific and gives a far more restrained and layered performance than his on-screen relatives. Salma Hayek is great, as always, but she’s under-utilized in her role as the television psychic Pina Auriemma, who is key in the saga. The casting of Hayek is particularly inspired given that her husband is the current owner of Gucci, a fact which will be lost on the mainstream audience.
But the true star of the film for me is Gaga. It is her film, and she steals the show. In her often over-the-top portrayal of Patrizia Gucci, her accent migrates occasionally from Milan to Moscow. But who cares? Her performance is spot-on. Her face is the thing that one can’t take one’s eyes off of. When she is on-screen, she owns the frame—not an easy task with so many seasoned and talented cast members vying for our attention. Too many, in fact.
Because of the size and star power of the cast, the screenplay is at the mercy of servicing them. One feels that some roles were expanded to simply attract and then to placate the stars. As the running time ticks by, viewers are subject to pointless and sometimes confusing scenes that seem to exist solely for the purpose of allowing the leading actors to “act.”
Under different circumstances, there is no doubt that some of those scenes would have ended up on the cutting-room floor. But because they stayed in, there is no time for the character development of the key players and thus we have little attachment to—or empathy for—any of them. The result, sadly, is a story in which we identify with no one.
The casting of Hayek is particularly inspired given that her husband is the current owner of Gucci, a fact which will be lost on the mainstream audience.
Maurizio had been bought out of the company by the time I assumed the position of creative director of Gucci and had my first hit collection. He certainly never toasted me after that show as he does in the film. Movies have a way of becoming truth in people’s minds, an alternate reality that in time obliterates the reality of what was.
I was deeply sad for several days after watching House of Gucci, a reaction that I think only those of us who knew the players and the play will feel. It was hard for me to see the humor and camp in something that was so bloody. In real life, none of it was camp. It was at times absurd, but ultimately it was tragic. But with Gaga’s and Driver’s strong performances, powerful over-the-top portrayals by the entire cast, impeccable costumes, stunning sets, and beautiful cinematography, the film, I suspect, will be a hit. Splash the Gucci name across things and they usually sell.
Tom Ford is a fashion designer and filmmaker. He began working at Gucci in 1990, and was the creative director of the house from 1994 to 2004