Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” has long been an inspiration for writers looking to mine its metaphorical possibilities, but in “Raul — The Right to Kill,” based on a screenplay written 30 years ago by veteran scripter Suso Cecchi D’Amico, there’s no full understanding of how to process what’s being extracted. Generally sympathetic, if lukewarm, reviews didn’t help turn novice helmer Andrea Bolognini’s raw ore into gold on release April 22. Occasional offshore fest screenings remain a possibility.
Pic relocates the story to the heyday of Fascist Italy in the late ’30s. However, not enough is made of the parallels between the nihilistic philosophy of the Raul/Raskolnikov character and the uber-Mensch code of Mussolini’s dictatorship.
From across a street, pencil-thin, hollow-cheeked Raul (Stefano Dionisi) scopes out the apartment of an unsympathetic pawnbroker (played with full Dickensian excess by the late Laura Betti, in her final role). Raul’s murder of her is robbed of dramatic power by slowing down the images and adding “ghosting” effects, making what should have been a cold scene on the edge of frenzy into an over-theatrical artifice.
Back home, the already feverish Raul nearly flips when he receives a notice to report to the police station. He’s actually been summoned to discuss non-payment of rent, but the pressure gets to him and he collapses after glimpsing Inspector Porfirio (Giancarlo Giannini).
This negligible brush with danger makes Raul feel invincible. However, after watching Mariotti (Alessandro Haber), an anti-Fascist acquaintance, get run over by the police, Raul’s guilt and remorse for the pawnbroker’s murder starts him questioning his own beliefs in a hierarchy of human types.
Romance enters the frame when Raul meets Sonia (Violante Placido), Mariotti’s daughter and a prostitute in an impossibly over-done brothel. Unlike in “The Crime,” the recent Iranian adaptation of “Crime and Punishment,” Raul’s obsession with the weakly-drawn young woman goes nowhere and remains the most extraneous element of the script.
Dionisi, steadily making a mark for his portrayals of conflicted heroes, is well cast as the edgy Raul. Lensing has an old-fashioned, classic ’40s feel; unfortunately, Andrea Morricone’s music shows some of the worst qualities of his father’s compositions, including a tendency toward repetition.