Sunday, September 30, 2012

A BRONX TALE (1993): Modest and Decent Gangster Film

Since I’ve so far refused to subscribe to cable or satellite television, I often end up watching movies that best fit onto a 17 inch screen television.  The best of such films are usually shown around two o’clock in the morning for individuals working odd shifts or that cannot sleep at night.  One such film is A Bronx Tale that was directed and starred Robert De Niro.  Strangely, it co-stars Chazz Palminteri who also wrote the play and screenplay for which the film was adapted.
Especially for a film that is about gangsters, A Bronx Tale is unusual in that it’s so devoid of cynicism  – a trait that have practically destroyed a large percentage of Hollywood movies.  It’s sometimes a bit too cloying, and the chief gangster, Sonny LoSpecchio (Palminteri) can be unbelievably benevolent and gentle when he’s not out to eliminate his perceived enemies.  Still, we care for the major characters because the emotion projected by such characters is honest.
The story takes place somewhere between the Bronx and Brooklyn during the 1960s.  Calogero (Francis Capra playing the young boy, and Lillo Brancato as a teenager) very early in his life witnesses Sonny commit a murder over a minor traffic accident.  Calogero never turns Sonny in, and Sonny tries to show gratitude by offering Calogero’s father, Lorenzo (De Niro), a good paying job.  Lorenzo refuses the offer and, in fact, discourages Calogero from ever seeing Sonny.  Nevertheless, Calogero continues seeing Sonny and even does what he can to help him out.
Lorenzo and Sonny living completely different lives often share similar world views.  Though Lorenzo is strictly hard working and blue collar, he can never convince Calogero to stay away from the easy money presented by association with Sonny.  But though this typically would be a disastrous choice, Sonny provides sage advice about romance, growing up and racial tensions in the Bronx, and he dissuades Calogero from ever pursuing a career in the mob.  In the end, Sonny makes his point when he (Sonny) is gunned down by a rival mobster seeking revenge.
Both Lorenzo and Sonny are remarkably open minded about Calogero’s pursuance of romance with a beautiful black high school student named Jane (Taral Hicks), and though the relationship never goes beyond that of a teenage romance, Calogero’s feelings for Jane allow him to see the difference between a decent world and the narrow world inhabited by many of his bigoted friends.  The problem with both the romance and the racial overtones is that it’s forced.  When it comes to racial dealings, it’s perhaps the only portion of the movie that is preachy.  This film was meant to be about two father figures, and the female presence in this film becomes a distraction.
A Bronx Tale, a 122 minute film, is remarkably much like the movie Hud, though the Bronx is very long way away from Texas.  One film takes place in the inner city, and the other takes place in wide open land.  Yet torn loyalty on the part of a 17-year old boy is the chief theme in both films.  In A Bronx Tale, the wiser of the two father figures wins out.  In Hud, no one wins – though the unscrupulous Hud does outlive his own father.
The decade of the 1990s was made up of a number of crass films, but at least here we had a movie that tried to give a positive message.  And when De Niro and Palminteri are on the screen, the movie’s sentimentality is manageable.

September 30, 2012

© Robert S. Miller 2012