2 February 1999 | Tea-3
Echoes of Cassavetes..."Goodwill Hunting" rebuttal?
Vincent Gallo's has supplied us with more than just a powerful character driven pic with the touching "Buffalo '66". Somehow he has managed to provide a much needed counterpoint to another recent noteworthy effort, "Good Will Hunting".
Instead of a pouting GQ-genius we get a main character much more common to everyday life. A simple loser trying to claw his way out of a hole that he never meant to dig for himself. A victim of circumstance who not only dosen't but couldn't know any better. It's a simple tale of desparation and lonliness that never shies away from cutting all the way down to the bone.
Billy Brown is revolting. Greasy, unmannered, and fresh from jail, the viewer is given no reason at all to care about him. He kidnaps Layla (Ricci) in an effort to maintain the machinery of lies that he has constructed to keep his nebulus parents unaware of his time in jail.
It becomes clear that she falls for him after meeting his parents and other major players in his life. Billy didn't just get the short end of the stick, he never even had a chance. At this point you are forced to ask why, instead of trying to connect with him, she isn't running for her life from this apparent maniac. But on closer examination you realize that you are also sticking around. Not simply to see what happens but to make sure that Billy turns out OK.
Gallo want's to make it clear that Billy was warped from the outside in. From the day of his birth he was hated by his psychotic mother, played brilliantly by Anjelica Houston, because her going into labor prevented her from watching the "Big Game" in which her favorite team triumphed in the 1966 Superbowl. And it was another pivotal Bills game that doomed Billy Brown and sent him to jail for 5 years just as he entered adulthood. A stark contrast to the scene in "Good Will Hunting" where Damon and Williams charachters recount the famous Boston Red Sox victory and thereby establish a deeper connection on the road to that protagonist's healing.
The road to Billy's wellness will have to be found elsewhere and with little help from anyone at all. He is forced to configure his own compass to guide him to the next step in his life and although it isn't pretty the result is far more belivable than "Good Will".
Gallo used his microscopic budget well especially in the flashback and dream sequences. This work resonates with some of John Cassavetes' tradmark overtones without exploiting them. And I'm not just talking about the presence of Ben Gazzara.
You can feel the cold of Buffalo seeping through every crack inside a given scene. You can also sense that the actors were given plenty of latitude to construct their charachters but we're directed with a special urgency. The end result enables the viewer to be propelled through the film instead of mearly left to watch it unfold before them.
The screenplay delves into territory where Tarantino and his like fear to tread. A style of film making that depends more on raw performance than on well laid plans and clever constructs. Gallo chose his team well and trusted them to win it for him and they came through brilliantly.