A somewhat old-fashioned political thriller complete with graying stars and emphasis on talk over action, “Piazza of the Five Moons” offers reasonably engrossing intrigue as easy to forget as it is to watch. Putting a fictive conspiracy-theory spin on Christian Democratic leader Aldo Moro’s 1978 kidnapping and murder, drama toplines Donald Sutherland as a retired judge drawn to reopen the case and Giancarlo Giannini as his longtime bodyguard. Outside Italy, where events remain a vivid memory, smoothly mounted item will find either quick, modest theatrical playoff or a direct track to ancillary.
Rosario (Sutherland) has barely taken a breath after his retirement speech when he’s accosted at gunpoint by an anonymous intruder who presses a small package upon him. It turns out to be an 8mm film showing from above the ambush on Moro’s car, which left all his guards dead and the politico hustled off by members of the radical-left Red Brigades. This footage has evidently been kept secret ever since; Rosario quickly ascertains that its images contradict the official version of the incident on several points. Protag’s only confidants in this pursuit are Branco (Giannini) and Fernanda (Stefania Rocca), latter a young magistrate once mentored by Rosario.
Natch, unseen forces soon try to thwart their effort; at last, the Italian Secret Police and the CIA become implicated in what had seemingly been a strictly far-left terrorist act. Denouement is a bit of a letdown, with major revelation of one figure’s “surprise” identity coming as no surprise at all.
Scenic forays to Milan, Rome and Paris (where Rosario meets with another Deep Throat-like figure played by F. Murray Abraham) and brisk editing help break up the potential tedium of a piece that’s largely three people sitting in rooms, spewing forth speculation.
Apart from the safety threat their investigating might pose to Fernanda’s family (alone among lead characters here, she has a living spouse and young children), relatively little suspense is generated. There’s no present-tense action until a brief, perfunctory car/plane chase in the last reel.
Biggest plus in maintaining some sense of urgency comes from the B&W faux-8mm sequences, which eventually grow to encompass not just the “secret film” but also the scenarios that principals gradually piece together. These possess an immediacy that is raw and convincing.
Sutherland’s distinctive voice has been replaced by a dubbed one (Sergio Graziani), but once one get used to that, his perf is fine, even if he’s never particularly credible as an Italian. Rocca’s alert presence adds some color, though Giannini looks unhappy with a role that too often leaves him sitting around, grimly listening to the other two.
Lensing makes the most of occasional opportunities for sight-seeing, though interior sequences are a tad monochromatic. Director Renzo Martinelli (“Porzus,” “Vajont”) imbues project with somewhat impersonal gloss; tech and design aspects are likewise polished in a neutral fashion.