THE STORY – Giuseppe Tornatore, director of the beloved “Cinema Paradiso,” turns his camera on his longtime collaborator Ennio Morricone (1928 – 2020) in a moving and comprehensive profile of the indefatigable composer. Tornatore’s documentary portrait explores the breadth of the maestro’s career, from his early Italian pop songs to the fistful of unforgettable film scores that he wrote, including “The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly” “The Thing,” “The Hateful Eight,” “Days Of Heaven,” and hundreds of others. This examination thoughtfully captures insightful commentary from Morricone’s closest collaborators and contemporaries, featuring testimonies from artists and directors such as Bernardo Bertolucci, Marco Bellocchio, Giuliano Montaldo, Dario Argento, Clint Eastwood, Joan Baez, Quentin Tarantino, and more. “Ennio” affords the master one last chance to recount his career and deconstruct the artistic process that led him to win two Academy Awards and author over 500 unforgettable soundtracks.
THE CAST – Ennio Morricone, Clint Eastwood, Quentin Tarantino, John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Quincy Jones, Dario Argento, Bruce Springsteen, Joan Baez & Wong Kar-Wai
THE TEAM – Giuseppe Tornatore (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 156 Minutes
There is no shortage of films that aim to dissect the lives of great artists. Such chronicles can offer not only a comprehensive dissection of significant biographical moments in a subject’s life but also a glimpse into the process by which they came to create such lasting works. It’s an opportunity to explore the legacy forged by their contributions to the world, and in such analysis, a deep appreciation can be found for the triumphs and tribulations that refined their singular vision. On that front, “Ennio” presents a familiar commentary many would recognize, applying this recognizable dissertation on a figure who has a long and well-established history in the realm of cinema. Its insights may not always feel revolutionary, but it’s easy to be wrapped up in this portrait all the same.
As one can imagine, the person whose career is being mined here does carry the Ennio. In this case, it is the legendary musician and composer Ennio Morricone. For those who are not immediately aware of his prolific work, he is responsible for some of the most memorable film scores in cinema history. His contributions to films such as “The Mission,” “The Untouchables,” “The Hateful Eight,” and the many films by Sergio Leone have secured him in the annals of history as one of the greatest musical artists of all time. This film looks at his humble beginnings under the tutelage of his father, which led him into respected conservatories. This eventually branched out into working in film, and his massive body of work is tracked as a complete understanding of his genius talent is presented.
Unsurprisingly, every frame of the film drips with nothing but complete admiration for Morricone. It’s an extensive examination of his life and career that is built upon the foundation that adheres very closely to the structure of similar documentaries that take the traditional approach of combing through the major events of the subject’s life. While the archival footage dispersed does help to liven up the overall storytelling, the momentum can get tedious in many sections. There is a particular sense of monotony in Morricone’s early life that struggles to establish a more engaging sense of wonderment that isn’t really discovered until he officially breaks into the cinematic world. The film’s flow is not helped by a collage of interviewees that eventually becomes disorienting despite the continual reminders of names popping up on the screen.
However, once the film fully commits to diving into the assembly of such monumental music, that is when this piece becomes wholly captivating. There is a particular joy in watching Morricone describe his system of creation, carving out the few melodic terrains that soon are crafted into angelic symphonies that are recognizable decades after their initial birth. Director Giuseppe Tornatore seems keenly aware of this focus, indulging the viewer with an idiosyncratic Morricone who meticulously describes how he finds the right combination of elements to form his compositions. It is also fascinating to hear him describe the relationships with the many directors he’s worked with, figuring out the philosophy each filmmaker brings and how those expectations will play out in the results. Sometimes, it’s an amusing anecdote, like how Oliver Stone’s tastes caused Morricone to become insulted with what was asked of him. Other times, it is a case of Roland Joffé beautifully connecting how elegantly the music uplifted the core emotions of the film. The score’s impact on a film is monumental, and the moments where the perspective is more narrowly attuned to this exploration are the most impactful.
If one describes themselves as a cinephile, then “Ennio” is going to have plenty that will leave one riveted. The deep dive into the procedure by which such iconic music was made is a treat to witness, and the man himself is a compelling figure to behold. Those aspects greatly compensate for a weaker structure that finds the pacing more laborious to mine through to arrive at the more engrossing sequences. In that regard, the film struggles to showcase an absorbing narrative consistently. However, there is a majesty at the center that cannot be denied due to the astounding appreciation for this maestro. For that, the conventions are well worth tolerating to bask in the heavenly glow of such musicality.