Harvey Keitel

Cop Land (1997, James Mangold)

Cop Land either has a lot of story going on and not enough content or a lot of content going on and not enough story. Also you could do variations of those statements with “plot.” Writer and director Mangold toggles Cop Land between two plot lines. First is lead Sylvester Stallone. Second is this big police corruption and cover-up story with Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, Robert Patrick, and Michael Rapaport. And some other guys. It’s the bigger story. Ray Liotta floats between, on his own thing. Almost everyone in Cop Land has their own story going and Mangold’s just checking in on it as background every once in a while. It creates this feeling of depth, even though there hasn’t actually been any plot development. The actors help.

But Mangold doesn’t have the same approach to narrative between the plot lines. Stallone’s in this character study, De Niro and Keitel are in this detached procedural. Stallone’s story could be a procedural, it would make sense for it to be a procedural–even De Niro tells him it ought to be a procedural–but Mangold keeps it a character study. All the way to the problematic ending.

Because as impressive as Mangold gets in Cop Land–and the film’s superbly acted, directed, written, photographed–but Mangold can’t bring it all together. He starts showing his inability to commingle his plot lines with Annabella Sciorra’s increased presence in the film. She’s good and she should have a good part. As teenagers, Stallone saved her, going partially deaf in the process. He could never become a cop (his dream) and Sciorra ends up marrying a shitbag cop (Peter Berg–who’s so good playing a shitbag) who’s terrible to her. Mangold’s plot presents him with some opportunity for Sciorra’s character to have a good arc, but he skips it. It’s a distraction and he wants to stay focused on something else.

That problematic finish? Lead Stallone becomes a distraction and Mangold wants to focus on something else. It’s a painful misstep too, with Mangold just coming off the third act action sequence–the only real action sequence in the film–and it’s awesome. So Mangold’s done drama, procedural, character study, action, and he’s perfectly segued between the different tones while simultaneously cohering them. Cop Land is building. Then all of a sudden Mangold loses the ability to segue. And to cohere. Maybe because Mangold reveal Liotta as his own major subplot somewhere near the end of second act (after doing everything he could to reduce Liotta from his first act presence). It’s a narrative pothole.

Though, given the film opens with De Niro narrating the ground situation, it’s impressive Mangold’s able to get the film through ninety plus minutes without the seams showing. The opening narration is compelling and the Howard Shore music for it is great, but it’s completely different from everything else in the picture.

Even when De Niro returns to the narration.

Maybe Mangold’s just bad at the summary storytelling though audio device. He also botches using newsradio commentary to move things along or set them up.

Cop Land is a little story in a big world. Mangold has got a great handle on the little story but not the big world. Though the Stallone arrives in New York City scene is kind of great. Stallone, Mangold, cinematographer Eric Alan Edwards, Shore. It just works. Because Stallone lumbers.

The film’s full of flashy performances. De Niro, Liotta, Berg, Patrick, Rapaport, they all get to be flashy. Dynamic. Mangold gives them great scenes and the actors deliver. All of them consistently except Berg. Berg’s too absent in the first act for all the subplots he gets to affect in the second.

But Keitel and Stallone are never flashy. Stallone because it’s his character. His character is anti-flash. His character is a drunken sheriff who goes around town in his flipflops opening parking meters for quarters to play pinball. Keitel it’s a combination of performance and part. Keitel only gets a couple moments to himself in the film and they’re real short. Mangold juxtaposes Stallone and Keitel in the story but not how he tells that story. It’s a weird thing to avoid, but Mangold avoids a lot.

For example, Mangold strongly implies no one in this town of cops (and cops’ wives, and cops’ children) respects the local law enforcement. It gives Stallone this Will Kane moment, but Mangold’s never established how it’s possible. How the town could truly function. And then Cop Land has all this toxic masculinity, racism, and complicity swirling around the plot and Mangold keeps eyes fixed forward. When a subplot or character starts going too much in those directions… bye bye subplot, bye bye character. Even though Mangold makes sure to write a good scene or get a great performance out of it.

Mangold fumbles Cop Land’s finish. He doesn’t know how to scale the narrative distance. Even if he did, there are some other significant pitfalls. But it’s almost great. Cop Land is almost great.

The acting is all good. De Niro is able to handle the Pacino-esque ranges in volume. Stallone self-effaces well. Maybe too much since Keitel’s a tad detached. Liotta takes an overly complicated role with too little development and gets some great material.

Much of Howard Shore’s score is excellent. When it’s not excellent, even when it’s predictable, it’s competent. Excellent photography from Edwards. Lester Cohen’s production design is good, even better than Mangold’s shots of it.

Cop Land comes real close; real, real close.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by James Mangold; director of photography, Eric Alan Edwards; edited by Craig McKay; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Lester Cohen; produced by Cary Woods, Cathy Konrad and Ezra Swerdlow; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Freddy Heflin), Ray Liotta (Gary Figgis), Harvey Keitel (Ray Donlan), Robert De Niro (Moe Tilden), Michael Rapaport (Murray Babitch), Annabella Sciorra (Liz Randone), Robert Patrick (Jack Rucker), Arthur J. Nascarella (Frank Lagonda), Peter Berg (Joey Randone), Janeane Garofalo (Deputy Cindy Betts), Noah Emmerich (Deputy Bill Geisler), Malik Yoba (Detective Carson), Cathy Moriarty (Rose Donlan), John Spencer (Leo Crasky), and Frank Vincent (PDA President Lassaro).


Reservoir Dogs (1992, Quentin Tarantino)

The least violent part of Reservoir Dogs is the bloodiest. One of the characters is in a pool of blood, slipping on it as he delivers his dialogue. Director Tarantino finds a moment of Shakespearian tragedy and builds a film to it. He uses stylish ultra-violence, Dogs is visceral with the blood, but the action itself implies a far more frugal production. He uses seventies music, but not the trendy stuff. His somewhat fractured narrative, which owes something to classic film noir, wants to be an updated version of seventies crime. And he succeeds with it. Tarantino would never be able to get away with Dogs having actual tragedy if he weren’t able to sell everything else he packages with that tragedy.

Dogs acknowledges the idea of being outlandish exploitation but the film’s so tightly constructed, Tarantino never lets anything get wild. The film’s most “uncontrolled” sequence, as Michael Madsen does a freestyle torture dance to “Stuck in the Middle with You,” turns out to be Tarantino’s most controlled sequence in the film’s primary location, where everything is controlled. But with Madsen’s dance, Tarantino takes the time to acknowledge the various realities of the situation. He breaks the movie magic, not because he wants to offer commentary or deconstruct genre, but because the film needs reality. The tragedy doesn’t work with reality. Without the reality, Dogs wouldn’t be difficult. It’d be amusing, sure, but it wouldn’t require the viewer to mentally engage with the film.

And Tarantino starts with those demands on the viewer right off. The first scene of the film demands the viewer make some value judgements on the cast. Harvey Keitel has to be likable, same goes for Tim Roth, even Lawrence Tierney a little. Certain actors just get to be actors, certain actors have to do a bit of a feint, but the scene has a whole bunch to do. It’s the hook. And it’s not in Tarantino’s monologues, it’s how the characters talk to one another, how they react to one another. The rhythm isn’t in one actor’s voice, but in how the banter works.

Many of the actors do get great scenes, some even get great monologues–Harvey Keitel, for instance, just gets tons of great stuff to do in the film. Right from the start, he gets the hardest work opposite Tim Roth and then Steve Buscemi. When Keitel and Madsen finally get around to facing off, there’s so much built up energy, anything seems possible. Of course, anything is not possible, because Tarantino is trying to get things somewhere specific.

Most of the film’s runtime takes place in a warehouse. Most of the film’s present action, once the flashback structure establishes, takes place in various locations. Tarantino takes forever to open up the film. It takes Dogs forever to get to a daytime scene without violence. Tarantino puts off letting the viewer identify with any of the characters. Because Dogs, for the viewer and for the characters, is about sympathy with the devil, taking responsibility for that sympathy and even requesting for that sympathy. It’s really, really good.

Andrzej Sekula’s photography is fine. Sally Menke’s editing is phenomenal. The sets are the real star. David Wasco’s production design. Tarantino shoots on cheap but Dogs never looks it. Wasco and Tarantino make it look like there’s no other way to see this film, no other angles. Tarantino holds his shots, making the hanging clothes or the wash basins extremely important–they burn into the viewer’s mind. Especially in the first act. The film implies a larger world outside itself, in no small part thanks to the set design and decoration; Tarantino asks a lot of the viewer.

And he does reward it. He promises it right off with the actors. Keitel, Buscemi, Chris Penn. They’re doing dynamic, sensational work. Even though the introduction of these characters and their development throughout the film might make them less sympathetic characters, the performances are magnificent. Especially Keitel and Buscemi. And Michael Madsen’s really good. Everyone’s really good. Except Tarantino. He’s really bad at acting. He gives himself a bad part, which is kind of good. Kind of. He’s still bad.

Tim Roth’s great.

Nice support from Randy Brooks and Kirk Baltz. Stephen Wright’s unseen DJ is almost an essential compenent.

Reservoir Dogs is never startling. Tarantino isn’t trying to exploit his viewer, he’s trying to tell a story. It’s not a big story. It’s not a grand story. It’s something of a tragic anecdote. Something tragic that happened to these guys when they were doing a job.

It’s an outstanding film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino; director of photography, Andrzej Sekula; edited by Sally Menke; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Lawrence Bender; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Harvey Keitel (Mr. White), Tim Roth (Mr. Orange), Michael Madsen (Mr. Blonde), Steve Buscemi (Mr. Pink), Chris Penn (Nice Guy Eddie), Lawrence Tierney (Joe Cabot), Edward Bunker (Mr. Blue), Quentin Tarantino (Mr. Brown), Randy Brooks (Holdaway), Kirk Baltz (Marvin) and Steven Wright (K-Billy DJ).


The Last Temptation of Christ (1988, Martin Scorsese)

The Last Temptation of Christ opens with a passage presumably from the introduction to the novel, as it’s the novel’s writer talking about his own feelings. It’s an odd choice, since it somehow removes the drive for the picture from the filmmakers and puts it on someone else.

It’s a very intentional move from Scorsese; Last Temptation is full of very intentional moves. While the film did have a relatively low budget, it still has an amazing crew–Michael Ballhaus’s photography is masterful and Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing is sublime (particularly for the first half).

Scorsese and Ballhaus open with muted colors. Willem Dafoe’s narration has to carry the fantastical elements until the journey of self-discovery picks up and color finally leaks in. The supporting cast–Harvey Keitel in particular–also lend to the mundane feeling. Keitel might be playing Judas, but he’s also the stand-in for the viewer. The approach works.

The film has two major transitions. First is when Dafoe and company get to Jerusalem the first time. Instead of journeying about, Last Temptation becomes all about getting to the crucifixion. That change probably isn’t anyone’s fault… at some point it has to be about getting to the cross. Still, Scorsese could have paced it better.

Then the cross itself, when Scorsese respectfully apes 2001. The end does save the picture, but there’s definite rough road.

Great music from Peter Gabriel, excellent lead performance from Dafoe, strong supporting turns.

Even with its problems, Last Temptation’s mostly magnificent.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Scorsese; screenplay by Paul Schrader, based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Thelma Schoonmaker; music by Peter Gabriel; production designer, John Beard; produced by Barbara De Fina; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Willem Dafoe (Jesus), Harvey Keitel (Judas), Barbara Hershey (Mary Magdalene), Verna Bloom (Mary, Mother of Jesus), Andre Gregory (John The Baptist), Gary Basaraba (Andrew, Apostle), Victor Argo (Peter, Apostle), Michael Been (John, Apostle), Paul Herman (Phillip, Apostle), John Lurie (James, Apostle), Alan Rosenberg (Thomas, Apostle), Leo Burmester (Nathaniel, Apostle), Peggy Gormley (Martha, Sister of Lazarus), Randy Danson (Mary, Sister of Lazarus), Tomas Arana (Lazarus), Roberts Blossom (Aged Master), Barry Miller (Jeroboam), Harry Dean Stanton (Saul), David Bowie (Pontius Pilate) and Juliette Caton (The Angel).


Clockers (1995, Spike Lee)

Clockers opens with actual crime scene photos juxtaposed against filmed sequences of a crowd gathering to watch as the police arrive. Lee is dealing with a lot in the film and opening with that startling sequence—against a beautiful song—at least shocks the viewer into paying attention. Though the film is too apolitical to be “about” anything, it does require undivided attention.

What Lee does do, very carefully and very clearly, is dismiss notions of simple characters. At times, the cops—with the exception of Harvey Keitel—appear the simplest, only to eventually reveal their internal strife in conversational asides. Keitel, top-billed, acts on that strife, though he does not describe it.

The film’s protagonist, a young drug dealer played by Mekhi Phifer (who’s amazing in his first performance), very clearly shows contradictions. But even Thomas Jefferson Byrd’s vicious, heroin-addled psychopath has these moments where he’s showing real concern, just unable to express it. Delroy Lindo’s similarly vicious drug lord has them too, but even Phifer’s gang of subordinate dealers are full of the contradictions. Lee never draws attention to it, instead just presenting reality.

Of course, with Malik Hassan Sayeed’s high contrast photography and Terence Blanchard’s emotive score, the Brooklyn projects become as lush and green as a tropical paradise.

All of the performances are amazing—there’s not a good one or a mediocre one. Keith David, Isaiah Washington, Regina Taylor… everyone’s spectacular.

Instead of simplifying a novel adaptation, Lee furthered complicated it, creating something remarkable.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Spike Lee; screenplay by Richard Price and Lee, based on the novel by Price; director of photography, Malik Hassan Sayeed; edited by Samuel D. Pollard; music by Terence Blanchard; production designer, Andrew McAlpine; produced by Jon Kilik, Lee and Martin Scorsese; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Mekhi Phifer (Ronald ‘Strike’ Dunham), Harvey Keitel (Det. Rocco Klein), Delroy Lindo (Rodney Little), Isaiah Washington (Victor Dunham), John Turturro (Det. Larry Mazilli), Keith David (André the Giant), Peewee Love (Tyrone ‘Shorty’ Jeeter), Regina Taylor (Iris Jeeter), Thomas Jefferson Byrd (Errol Barnes), Sticky Fingaz (Scientific), Fredro Starr (Go), Elvis Nolasco (Horace), Lawrence B. Adisa (Stan), Hassan Johnson (Skills), Frances Foster (Gloria) and Michael Imperioli (Detective Jo-Jo).


Bad Lieutenant (1992, Abel Ferrara)

Harvey Keitel’s performance in Bad Lieutenant reminds me of a supporting actor in a stage play who keeps fidgeting to get the audience’s attention. I wonder if Keitel passes out copies of the DVD to his neocon buddies these days.

I have seen the film before, back when I turned eighteen and went through about three days of NC-17 movies… only to learn most of them were pretty lousy and sensationalist.

Bad Lieutenant hasn’t improved in the last fourteen years.

Ferrara’s filmmaking approach here is Cassavetes-lite. It’s like Cassavetes, only with the dialogue cut (Lieutenant‘s dialogue is frequently absurd). Keitel’s delivery of those lines–alongside actors like co-writer Zoë Lund and Phil Neilson–occasionally make the film seem like a twisted attempt at camp.

Of course, it’s not camp. If the three hundred thousand Jesus icons (not to mention the shot of a wailing Jesus on the cross) don’t clue you in, it’s about Catholic redemption.

What’s so funny about the film is how ludicrous the simple parts get. The police investigation makes absolutely no sense (the crime isn’t investigated for three days, even though the cops and, presumably, the whole world know about it).

The film opens with an unintentionally comedic moment–foul-mouthed Keitel taking his kids to school–which at least suggests the film is going to be somewhat engaging. Instead, it meanders through its run time. Keitel’s the whole (bad) show.

Ken Kelsch’s cinematography’s good.

For all the noise, I almost fell asleep.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Abel Ferrara; written by Victor Argo, Paul Calderon, Ferrara and Zoë Lund; director of photography, Ken Kelsch; edited by Anthony Redman; music by Joe Delia; produced by Mary Kane and Edward R. Pressman; released by Aries Films.

Starring Harvey Keitel (The Lieutenant), Victor Argo (Beat Cop), Zoë Lund (Zoe), Vincent Laresca (J.C.), Frankie Thorn (The Nun), Fernando Véléz (Julio), Joseph Micheal Cruz (Paulo), Paul Hipp (Jesus), Frank Adonis (Large), Anthony Ruggiero (Lite), Victoria Bastel (Bowtay), Paul Calderon (Cop #1), Leonard L. Thomas (Cop #2), Peggy Gormley (Lieutenant’s wife), Stella Keitel (Lieutenant’s daughter), Brian McElroy (Lieutenant’s son) and Frankie Acciato (Lieutenant’s son).


Point of No Return (1993, John Badham)

I can’t remember any good Hollywood remakes of recent foreign films. Point of No Return was supposed to be a big deal–Bridget Fonda getting the coveted lead was a big deal (she went on to say she’d never read reviews again after No Return).

The film’s basically a shot for shot remake of Nikita; besides screenwriters of questionable pedigree, the real problem is John Badham.

As a friend once said, “John Badham makes bad movies.”

Badham trying to make this film is ludicrous. It’s got a complicated character arc–villain to hero–and Badham doesn’t work well with complexities. He also doesn’t do well when he doesn’t have a strong, movie star lead.

Part of the point of Point of No Return is Bridget Fonda not having a strong personality. When she’s in scenes with Gabriel Byrne or, especially, Anne Bancroft, it’s a complete misfire under Badham’s direction.

Hans Zimmer’s absurd score is no help either. Zimmer gives an action movie a zany comedy score. And it’s always blaring.

The film’s very much of its time–Harvey Keitel shows up post-Reservoir Dogs, Dermot Mulroney is still in big studio releases–but it’s hard to understand why Warners thought Badham was the right director for this picture. Badham was never an A-list director and this picture was–at least, like I said, in my recollection–intended to be a major release.

Maybe after Luc Besson turned it down, Warner gave up trying.

Instead, Badham made a boring remake.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Badham; screenplay by Robert Getchell and Alexandra Seros, based on a film by Luc Besson; director of photography, Michael W. Watkins; edited by Frank Morriss; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Philip Harrison; produced by Art Linson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Bridget Fonda (Maggie), Gabriel Byrne (Bob), Dermot Mulroney (J.P.), Miguel Ferrer (Kaufman), Anne Bancroft (Amanda), Olivia d’Abo (Angela), Richard Romanus (Fahd Bahktiar) and Harvey Keitel (Victor the Cleaner).


Red Dragon (2002, Brett Ratner)

It’s hard to know what to think of Red Dragon. While it’s an adaptation of a novel, it’s also a remake of Manhunter, whether the film wants to acknowledge it or not. It’s got Danny Elfman doing the score, so it’s scary (though he does seem rather influenced by early 1990s Morricone) and director Ratner works in the opposite direction of what Mann accomplished in Manhunter.

It also features Edward Norton’s worst performance. I watched it wondering what he used the money on and apparently he used it to finance 25th Hour, which makes sense. It’s a bunch of Academy Award winning or nominated actors turning in lousy performances. Ralph Fiennes is goofy as a serial killer, Emily Watson barely holds her accent, Philip Seymour Hoffman is atrocious–it’s the kind of movie where if Harvey Keitel were drinking through the whole thing, it’d be funny. Instead, he’s not and it’s not. It’s depressing.

I think the worst served has got to be Mary-Louise Parker, who’s so boring as Norton’s wife, her outfits have more personality. Anthony Hopkins is crappy, but in his unspectacular way he’s crappy. He’s top-billed on a conductor-less train wreck.

There should be something to recommend Red Dragon–it’s an immensely watchable (at least once) curiosity, just because it’s so lousy and such a drab remake of Manhunter. It’s supposedly more faithful to the source novel–no surprise, Mann made some significant improvements.

Norton looks about fifteen in it, wearing his dad’s suits.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Brett Ratner; screenplay by Ted Tally, based on the novel by Thomas Harris; director of photography, Dante Spinotti; edited by Mark Helfrich; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Kristi Zea; produced by Dino De Laurentiis and Martha De Laurentiis; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Anthony Hopkins (Dr. Hannibal Lecter), Edward Norton (Will Graham), Ralph Fiennes (Francis Dolarhyde), Harvey Keitel (Jack Crawford), Emily Watson (Reba McClane), Mary-Louise Parker (Molly Graham), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Freddy Lounds), Anthony Heald (Dr. Frederick Chilton), Ken Leung (Lloyd Bowman) and Frankie Faison (Barney Matthews).


Bugsy (1991, Barry Levinson), the extended cut

It’s amazing what can be done with cinematography and makeup. In Bugsy, specially lighted and caked with makeup, fifty-something Warren Beatty can play late thirties something Ben Siegel, albeit specially lighted and caked in makeup. The lighting is incredibly distracting, particularly in the scenes where Beatty is the only one getting the attempt at age-defying light. It gives the film a bright orange hue and it really doesn’t need any further attention drawn to Levinson’s almost indifference to its place as a period piece. There’s no texture to Bugsy‘s early 1940s Hollywood. It seems like there should be–had the film been shot on sound stages, it would have added a lot.

The problems are pretty simple. It’s boring and unrewarding. Not in the conclusion, but minute-to-minute. Bugsy is about someone who’s a little nuts and his romance with someone who’s either a little nuts, a lot stupid or deceptive and manipulative. The pair–Beatty and Annette Bening–do not make for a charismatic pair. Bening is mediocre at best. Beatty’s best scenes are with Harvey Keitel (who probably gives the film’s best performance as Mickey Cohen), Ben Kingsley (also mediocre, but his writing is better than Bening’s), Joe Mantegna and, in particular, Elliott Gould. I’ll partially retract my Keitel statement–Gould gives the film’s best performance. As Siegel, Beatty really doesn’t have much to do. When the film tries to give some weight to his suffering, it’s desperate.

The real problem, then, is the script. James Toback, little shock, doesn’t write interesting people and he doesn’t write interesting historical fiction. With such unappealing character arcs, all Bugsy has going for it is the chance at being really good historical fiction. It isn’t. The whole film is based on the premise the movie stars are going to make the uninteresting story–I mean, really, a paragraph could summarize the pertinent action in the film–interesting. It’s also based on the premise, but only at the end and somewhat ludicrously, the audience is supposed to be upset mobster Siegel got a raw deal from the mob. Whoop de doo.

If Levinson had pushed and given the film some visual flare… it wouldn’t have done much good. The Ennio Morricone score, which sounds a lot like all of his other scores from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties, is a poor fit to the material. It’s distracting and goofy.

Still, it’s a competently made Hollywood vanity project (I don’t know who’s vanity, Beatty’s I guess). But it’s an excruciating two and a half hours.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Barry Levinson; screenplay by James Toback, based on a book by Dean Jennings; director of photography, Allen Daviau; edited by Stu Linder; music by Ennio Morricone; production designer, Dennis Gassner; produced by Levinson, Beatty and Mark Johnson; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Warren Beatty (Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel), Annette Bening (Virginia Hill), Harvey Keitel (Mickey Cohen), Ben Kingsley (Meyer Lansky), Elliott Gould (Harry Greenberg), Joe Mantegna (George Raft), Richard C. Sarafian (Jack Dragna), Bebe Neuwirth (Countess di Frasso), Gian-Carlo Scandiuzzi (Count di Frasso), Wendy Phillips (Esta Siegel), Stefanie Mason (Millicent Siegel), Kimberly McCullough (Barbara Siegel), Andy Romano (Del Webb), Robert Beltran (Alejandro), Bill Graham (Charlie Luciano) and Lewis Van Bergen (Joey Adonis).


The January Man (1989, Pat O’Connor)

People hate The January Man, just hate it. It’s famous for being hated, in fact. It’s one of the earliest movies I can remember real bile about. Dune’s another one, but Dune deserves it. The January Man gets a lot of it because it’s from the pen of John Patrick Shanley, that screenwriting whirlwind behind Congo and Moonstruck. Oh, Moonstruck, that Academy Award-winning overrated embarrassment. Going after The January Man so hard–saying it’s unbelievable Shanley wrote this one and that one–provides an excuse… The January Man is about well-written as Moonstruck and it’s about as well as Shanley can write.

I started it with an open mind, I really did. I thought maybe I was wrong about Shanley and I was all set to hurry to watch Moonstruck and queue up John Versus the Volcano. But I wasn’t wrong about Shanley. When I saw Susan Sarandon’s name, I assumed she would be terrible–I was wrong, she’s solidly mediocre. When I saw Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s name, I assumed the same and I was much wronger. And wronger is a word, I thought it might not be. Mastrantonio is excellent in the movie. She gives, easily, the best performance and now I’m thinking about queuing a couple of her movies.

It’s not well-written, the mystery is uninterestingly investigated, and the character melodramas are pat and standard and were tired in 1933. Man in love with his brother’s wife and, oh, what a shock, turns out the bad brother framed the good brother and on and on. When Wallace Beery made these movies, there were at least guns.

It being an incredibly standard exercise, The January Man is actually believably set in New York City and that facet makes–by today’s standards, when Hollywood shoots LA for New York–somewhat unique. It’s a welcome aspect, I suppose.

Kevin Kline’s not particularly good. He has accent in some scenes and in other ones he does not, but he carries the film. He’s particularly bad whenever he and Mastrantonio talk about her being so young (at thirty she’s playing Hollywood twenty-three) and their romance is only made palatable by her performance. Kline’s best when he’s bickering with Danny Aiello (who gets the film’s worst dialogue) and Harvey Keitel (who gets the film’s lamest character… well, him or Sarandon).

Rod Steiger’s not particularly good, but he’s real funny–the movie tries to be a comedy but Shanley wrote it, so it isn’t funny… Alan Rickman has a little bit more fun, with only two really terrible lines, which is quite an achievement in this film. Brian Tarantina has a small role, but he’s good.

The big problem with the film is the present action. It takes place over five days, in which time, Kline–in three nicely directed scenes–learns more about the case he’s been on for twenty hours than the entire NYPD did in a year. It’s convenient. It’s all contrived and all convenient.

But it’s not that terrible.

And, except a handful of bad parts, Marvin Hamlisch’s score is nice.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Pat O’Connor; written by John Patrick Shanley; director of photography, Jerzy Zielinski; edited by Lou Lombardo; music by Marvin Hamlisch; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Norman Jewison and Ezra Swerdlow; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Kevin Kline (Nick Starkey), Susan Sarandon (Christine Starkey), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Bernadette Flynn), Harvey Keitel (Police Comissioner Frank Starkey), Danny Aiello (Captain Vincent Alcoa), Rod Steiger (Mayor Eamon Flynn), Alan Rickman (Ed), Faye Grant (Alison Hawkins), Kenneth Welsh (Roger Culver), Jayne Haynes (Alma), Brian Tarantina (Cone), Bruce MacVittie (Rip) and Bill Cobbs (Detective Reilly).


Cop Land (1997, James Mangold), the director’s cut

Here’s an interesting director’s cut… it doesn’t change the film overall.

Most director’s cuts, extended versions, whatever, change the effect of the film. Blade Runner is the usual example, but so is something like The Big Red One (though not as much). In many ways, Cop Land is like Touch of Evil. The experience doesn’t change significantly.

Throughout, I suppose Cop Land is stronger. But Cop Land was always exceptionally strong throughout. It’s the ending, that stupid ending, putting everything on Robert De Niro’s narration… and the narration undoes the film. With DVD’s proliferation of director’s cuts and extended versions (for example, I have Gone in 60 Seconds–which features another sixty seconds or so–and A Knight’s Tale extended to watch in the near future and Ali even), these versions are more and more becoming less important. (Wow, what a bad sentence). Thinking further, I think Pearl Harbor is probably the worst director’s cut, since Bay used it to excise the film’s goodness….

Cop Land: The Director’s Cut is a better film. It’s just not a more rewarding experience.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by James Mangold; director of photography, Eric Edwards; edited by Craig McKay; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Lester Cohen; produced by Cary Woods, Cathy Konrad and Ezra Swerdlow; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Freddy Heflin), Harvey Keitel (Ray Donlan), Ray Liotta (Gary Figgis), Robert De Niro (Moe Tilden), Peter Berg (Joey Randone), Janeane Garofalo (Deputy Cindy Betts), Robert Patrick (Jack Rucker), Michael Rapaport (Murray Babitch), Annabella Sciorra (Liz Randone), Noah Emmerich (Deputy Bill Geisler), Cathy Moriarty (Rose Donlan), John Spencer (Leo Crasky), Frank Vincent (PDA President Lassaro), Malik Yoba (Detective Carson), Arthur J. Nascarella (Frank Lagonda) and Edie Falco (Berta).


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