3 November 2000 | JawsOfJosh
Wonderful coming-of-age story in little Italy
Oh, what a wonderfully small and intricate film this is! How I love and cherish the world I am pulled into every time I see this film. Robert De Niro's directorial debut proves strong and lively, evidenced by how he stuck to a topic close to home; a young, impressionable Italian kid growing up little Italy in the late 60's. As the naive protagonist Calogero, or 'C' as he is nicknamed, Lillo Brancato gives a great performance as a young man torn between the working-class honesty displayed by his strict father and the ruthless world of organized crime demonstrated by the neighborhood crime boss Sonny (Chazz Palminteri adapted his own play and cast himself as a burly, laid back, world weary know-it-all).
One key element that snags you in is the narration. Like equally personal films of its stature (Scorsese's gangster trilogy, "Taxi Driver," "Election," "Bringing Out The Dead", "SLC Punk!"), the voice-over guiding brings you in even further into the already detailed landscape and story presented. I don't really consider this a mafia movie, it's much more of a coming-of-age tale. However, the background De Niro provides is so intimate and thorough that you wish for another film chronicling the life of Sonny.
I have to admit that, for a debut, De Niro's judicious use of music seemed to rival that of Spike or Scorsese in turns of effectiveness. First of all, De Niro kept a much more grass roots approach, sticking to doo-wop, soul, rock, "mobster pop" (Dean or Frank) and a little jazz. Whereas Scorsese will use anything at his disposal ("Casino" had two Devo tunes in it), De Niro really seems to search for what really makes the scene. My favorite is the scoring of a street fight scene to "Nights In White Satin"... De Niro must of knew before we did it was all in the violins. De Niro said he knew this type of story had been done before and didn't want to repeat anything, so he viewed Scorsese's mobster trilogy to see what already had been done. It's obvious he paid attention.
Even De Niro himself knows a little Italy gangster film is not complete with at least a surprise-ending cameo from you know who...