Summer of Sam (1999)

R   |    |  Crime, Drama, Romance


Summer of Sam (1999) Poster

Spike Lee's take on the "Son of Sam" murders in New York City during the summer of 1977 centering on the residents of an Italian-American Northeast Bronx neighborhood who live in fear and distrust of one another.

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6.6/10
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  • Summer of Sam (1999)
  • Mira Sorvino and John Leguizamo in Summer of Sam (1999)
  • Mira Sorvino and John Leguizamo in Summer of Sam (1999)
  • John Leguizamo in Summer of Sam (1999)
  • Adrien Brody in Summer of Sam (1999)
  • Spike Lee and John Leguizamo in Summer of Sam (1999)

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29 December 1999 | Don-102
8
| A Flashy Departure For Spike Lee...
Spike Lee goes berserk with SUMMER OF SAM, a twisted revisiting of the Son of Sam killings, New York, 1977. Lee steps away from his usual message pictures depicting the differences between blacks and whites and plunges us into the small Italian neighborhood within the largest city in the United States that serial killer David Berkowitz terrorized for months. The "Son of Sam" himself (played by Michael Badalucco) is placed in the back seat and Lee presents a community and an era for that matter in complete chaos.

SUMMER OF SAM has its good points and its bad points. We get to know this locale very well whether we like it or not. The characters who populate the neighborhood are funny, sad, and stupid all at the same time. You get a feel for the smells and the language of that time in that place. 1977 was the year of Disco's peak, the uprising of British punk rock (represented well by the Adrien Brody character "Ritchie"), and the Yankees were on top of the baseball world. These characters are truly nuts in their vigilante approach to finding the killer. Hell, Reggie Jackson (#44) may be the .44 caliber killer.

Aside from seeing into a sometimes gripping and stupefying world of violence and flash, the film does go overboard many times. Lee continuously rams the sex aspect of the period into our minds and Berkowitz is not seen or known enough. I did not expect a Berkowitz bio at all, however a more focused look at the killer would have proved more effective. The relationship between "Vinny" and "Dionna" (John Leguizamo and Mira Sirvino) is well-done, but over-told. True, "Vinny" is the movie's central character, but he has barely a redeeming quality and is a hard-headed product of his environment.

The cinematography and overall sound of SUMMER OF SAM is awesome. It looks grimy when it should and the use of The Who on the soundtrack is emotionally rousing, especially during the inevitable climax. I liked the picture mostly for cinematic reasons than for historical or emotional ones. The fictional neighborhood pieces are not as good as the small glimpses of Berkowitz, who does indeed chat with dogs. It did remind me in many ways of Lee's DO THE RIGHT THING, but this film has a larger canvas to paint. It works despite the shortcomings.

RATING: ***

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Crime | Drama | Romance | Thriller

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