Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Overlooked DVD of the month - CITY HALL

From the writers of SCENT OF WOMAN, RAGING BULL, TAXI DRIVER, GOODFELLAS and CASINO comes a political thriller starring Al Pacino, John Cusack, Danny Aiello and and David Paymer. The resulting movie is slick, compelling and labyrthinthine in the links it establishes between the mafia, the political machine and law enforcement. John Cusack plays the naive out-of-towner turned New York Deputy Mayor. Through his eyes we start to investigate the corruption in City Hall when a cop and a mafiosi kill each other in a shoot-out and an innocent kid is killed in the crossfire. The key question is why the mafiosi was on probation in the first place. The investigation takes us into bent real estate deals and exploitative political grand-standing. We see genuinely bad men and we see good men who can't help but be implicated in a corrupt establishment. The most sympathetic is Martin Landau as the judge who signed off on the probation. The most compelling is Danny Aiello's political fixer and Rogers & Hammerstein fan. In contrast to his later films, Al Pacino's histrionics are well contained and carefully aimed. As mayor, he constructs a beautifully melodramatic funeral oration - perfect advertising and yet also just what was needed. John Cusack is also perfectly cast as the charismatic Deputy Mayor who finds himself out of his depth. The movie isn't perfect. It's rare to find a film that would've benefited from a longer cut, but this is a great example. I also found the insertion of Bridget Fonda's character a bit clumsy and redundant. Still, for all that, CITY HALL is a slick, engaging political thriller that stretches the brain but still contains pleasurably witty one-liners and dramatic set-pieces. Highly recommended.

CITY HALL was released in 1996 and is available on DVD and on iTunes.

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