The true story of a 1973 prison escape attempt by affable anarchist Horst Fantazzini, who conducted a spree of stickups across northern Italy, “Outlaw” confirms screenwriter Enzo Monteleone (“Mediterraneo”) as an able director. Nimbly paced pic could have benefited from heightened suspense and a more involving protagonist, but its deft balance of drama and understated humor, the lively interplay between its characters and a strong feeling for the era make it consistently appealing. Festival exposure could be instrumental in securing scattered theatrical and TV sales.
Source material is Fantazzini’s book, which recounts his history of nonviolent, unfailingly courteous holdups, his 20-year prison sentence, his series of fruitless appeals for clemency and the attempted escape — one of many — that occupies most of the film’s narrative.
Monteleone’s script dispenses with potentially the most interesting chapter of Fantazzini’s escapades — the bank heists — prior to and during the opening titles. Action then shifts to the progressively run Piemonte prison where Horst (Stefano Accorsi) has been incarcerated. Having smuggled in a gun, Horst lurches into a poorly planned escape, clumsily wounding three guards and barricading himself in a prison office with two more guards as hostages.
Taking “Dog Day Afternoon” as its model, the film’s main concern is depicting the edgy, eccentric dynamic between Horst and his adversaries, many of whom are almost sympathetic to his predicament.
Underpaid and insignificant on the power scale, the hostages (amusingly played by Giovanni Esposito and Emilio Solfrizzi) both are none-too-quick southerners in the unaccommodating north and no less fish-out-of-water than their captor. Negotiators like the DA (Antonio Catania), the lenient prison director (Antonio Petrocelli) recalled from his seaside vacation and a senior carabiniere officer (Paolo Graziosi) given to drastic solutions are engaging contributions to the gallery of idiosyncratic characters.
As he showed in the recent hit “Radio Freccia,” young thesp Accorsi makes a strong, likable lead, able to tease humor from Horst’s panic-crazed situation while also conveying its desperation. But as written here, the role rarely encourages the audience to invest emotionally in the character. A single scene where he is bitterly reprimanded by his hard-line anarchist father (Francesco Guccini) is not enough; nor are the intercut moments of a reporter interviewing Horst’s wife (Fabrizia Sacchi). Perhaps because of this, there’s only low-key tension during the buildup to his exit from the prison as sharpshooters await him outside.
Director Monteleone, whose first feature was the quirky faux biopic “The True Life of Antonio H,” hits the target with his rendering of ’70s Italy, not just in period reconstruction and costumes but in faces, attitudes and the naive, uncynical innocence that prevailed then. Pivio and Aldo De Scalzi’s Middle East-flavored score and Cecilia Zanuso’s sharp editing drive events along to a steady rhythm.
With extensive use of jumpy hand-held cameras, pic’s visual style mirrors the agitation and chaos of the situation, and lenser Arnaldo Catinari supplies a gritty texture of warm but slightly washed-out institutional colors befitting the era.