After too many movies about New York gangsters, the suggestion that life in the city could be anything but corrupt is foolish.

This takes the sting out of James Gray's follow up to Little Odessa. You would be forgiven for thinking it's a Sidney Lumet production. The gritty realism has a monochrome feel to it, even if the pace is slow.

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What puts flesh on these old bones are the performances from The Sunset Lounge regulars - James Caan, Faye Dunaway, Ellen Burstyn. It is a privilege to watch them give acting lessons to the young pups.

The story is a family affair against a backdrop of dirty dealings in the underground transport system. Local politicians and city officials are kept on side with sweeteners and backhanders. When contracts are awarded each year for the lucrative lines, Frank (Caan) and his team of grey-suited thugs ensure that money has been distributed in the right quarter. "Making people feel appreciated" is how they put it.

The star of the film is Leo (Mark Wahlberg), the least interesting character ("I'm not too good with words"), being passive and quiet, unless provoked.

He comes out of jail, after taking the rap for some car theft scam, to find that his best friend, Willie (Joaquin Phoenix), is dating his cousin, Erica (Charlize Theron), and working for his uncle Frank.

Encouraged by Willie, he gets involved and witnesses shady deals. One night in the yards, an innocent man is murdered and he finds himself on the lam.

There are many layers to this scenario. Leo's mother (Burstyn) has a weak heart and little financial support. Her sister (Dunaway) is married to Frank and made of tougher stuff. Erica has something going for Leo and Willie is too hungry for power.

Frank's future is on the line. So is Leo's. So is Willie's. Are family ties stronger than business ties? How many people must die to cover up a killing?

Wahlberg is watchful, Phoenix intense and Theron controlled. In a world where everyone is bought, only poor people can afford to be honest. And they don't count.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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A murder cover up set against the backdrop of corruption on the New York Subway.
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Director: James Gray

Writer: James Gray, Matt Reeves

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix, Charlize Theron, James Caan, Faye Dunaway, Ellen Burstyn

Year: 2000

Runtime: 116 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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