21 April 2001 | jhclues
"Noir" In The City
In this contemporary film noir, two brothers with the same alma mater-- Folsom Prison-- discover something about loyalty and what `honor among thieves' really means, in `City of Industry,' directed by John Irvin. Lee Egan (Timothy Hutton) puts together a crew of four men, including his brother, Roy (Harvey Keitel), to take down a jewelry store in Palm Springs, California. If all goes well, they look to score a cool three mil in diamonds, and Lee has a fence in L.A. ready to move the merchandise. Lee and Roy are solid, as is Jorge (Wade Dominguez), the third member of the crew who is already looking at 2 to 5 in Folsom, having been convicted of carrying a concealed weapon. Jorge wants a quick score that will take care of his wife, Rachel (Famke Janssen), and their two kids while he's away. The wild card of the bunch is Skip Kovich (Stephen Dorff), their wheel man; he has a wild streak that emboldens him too much for his own good, a flaky girlfriend and some ideas of his own about how the split from the job should go down. Lee contends that it's going to be an easy score, with each man's share being `Not bad for a day's work.' But you can bet that anytime you have a `sure thing' it's going to turn out to be anything but, and this caper is, of course, no exception.
As is befitting the subject matter, the film is dark-- much of it takes place at night, or in rather seedy, industrial locales-- with a touch of artistic cinematography that gives a sense of urgency to the story. It quickly shifts from the posh atmosphere of Palm Springs to downtown Los Angeles and Chinatown, an environment through which you get a sense of who these guys are and what they are about. As Rachel says to Roy at one point, `You guys are all alike--'
As Roy, Keitel carries the film with the kind of credible performance we've come to expect from him. While this character is certainly not a stretch for him-- you've seen `Roy' many times before, played by Keitel and others-- he does put a unique stamp on him; he's familiar, but Keitel manages to avoid letting him slip into stereotype. And that is no easy task when you take into consideration that in reality a man like Roy would necessarily share certain traits with others of his ilk. What makes the difference is Keitel's consummate ability as an actor, and his concern with fleshing out the details of his character.
The role of Lee is something of a departure for Hutton, though similar to the part he played in `Playing God,' but with much more definition. He gives Lee a very `real' quality, the cool confidence of one who lives just beyond the fringe of what society deems acceptable. When he mentions that he's been in Folsom, it's believable. Dorff, meanwhile, is effective as Skip, a guy perpetually pumped and strung out, crazy-- but like a fox-- with an aura of menace about him that is nearly tangible. In attitude and style, Skip is reminiscent of Laurence Fishburne's two-fisted, gun toting Jump in `King of New York.' And Janssen gives a notable performance also, successfully creating the one character in the film with whom the audience can sympathize. You feel her desperation and the concern she has for her children's well being, which effectively adds valuable context to the story.
The supporting cast includes Michael Jai White (Odell), Lucy Liu (Cathi), Reno Wilson (Keshaun), Dana Barron (Gena), Tamara Clatterbuck (Sunny), Brian Brophy (Backus) and Francois Chau (Uncle Luke). A violent and stylish examination of the criminal element in our midst, `City of Industry' is a hard-edged film that presents the matter-of-fact way in which those who subscribe to a life of crime seemingly function within their own sect of society. It's a part of life many would just as soon deny in reality, but as Steve McQueen said many years ago in `Bullitt,' `That's where half of it is.' And a film like this is not about to let you forget it. I rate this one 8/10.