I'm Not Scared (2003) / Drama-Thriller
aka Io Non Ho Paura

MPAA Rated: R for language, violence, and disturbing images
Running Time: 108 min.

Cast: Giuseppe Cristiano, Mattia di Pierro, Dino Abbrescia, Fabio Tetta, Adriana Conserva, Giulia Matturo, Stefano Biase, Fabio Antonacci, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon
Director: Gabriele Salvatores
Screenplay: Niccolo Ammaniti, Francesca Marciano
Review published October 31, 2004

Gabriele Salvatores (Mediterraneo) directs this emotional thriller that succeeds on every level to deliver one of the better films of the year.  It works because we feel for the characters, thanks to good development in the script (adapted by Ammaniti from his best-selling novel), as well as a very good cast of actors, especially in the roles of the young children. 

Set in a small Italian village in the late 1970s, a young adventurous boy discovers a large hole in the ground, where another boy is chained by the leg for reasons unknown.  Not knowing what to do, he makes effort to see that the captive gets some food and drink, but doesn't know what he can do to help -- the other boy is chained down there.  Not knowing who or why someone would do such a heinous thing, he soon discovers that he isn't the only one in town who knows about the deed, and his meddling just might cost the captive boy his life -- and also his own.

With beautiful landscapes and some very impressive cinematography by Italo Petriccione, I'm Not Scared is just as memorable for its indelible scenery as it is for the engaging story it contains within.  There is a slowness in the build-up, with lingering shots of the countryside, children playing, and the desolation of the locale, all of which works to set up an atmosphere where there is no place to go for help, and brutality is just part of the hard knocks of growing up poor. 

Perhaps it's a misnomer to classify this as a thriller, as Salvatores' intent isn't really to weave a web of deception, or to engage you with nail-biting suspense.  He challenges us with moral dilemmas faced through the innocent eyes of children, and has us hoping with a growing sense of dread that the situation can be resolved without harm befalling any of them.  Still, the climax of the film is more edge-of-your-seat than any potboiler Hollywood thriller, and even if the events of the film lend to a certain level of predictability, the realistic portrayals and situations keep you along for the ride.  Perhaps the best naturalistic suspense drama since Witness.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo