The plot in a nutshell
This modern day mobster movie tells the story of four wiseguy kids, or
knockaround guys. Mattie, played by Barry Pepper, fails a test of his
manhood at 12, and from then on his uncle (played by John Malkovich) and
father (played by Dennis Hopper) use him for nothing more than a low level
gopher. He can't succeed in the real world, since his family name and
father's reputation follow him. Finally, desperate to prove to his
father he can take over the family business, he enlists the help of his
three friends to bring a load of cash in from the west coast.
course, it gets a little more complicated than anticipated when some small
town folks, including the police, get involved. The four try to right
things, but not before Mattie's Uncle makes an appearance.
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Relatively Spoiler Free Thoughts
I was pleasantly surprised by this film. Pepper's performance is good,
but Vin Diesel as his tough guy buddy Taylor, and Seth Green as the
squirrelly runner that screws things up in the first place, both showed
greater acting chops than I had expected. In particular, Vin Diesel
showed that he just might be at least half as good of an actor as he claims
This isn't a fast paced, big
explosions kind of film, and it isn't a great mobster film like the
Godfather, or the Road to Perdition that released the same week to DVD.
But I was very impressed by the writing, and some of the
relationships. I wish they'd have been able to give us more background
on the four friends, and just how over time they've become so close, but of
course you can only fit so much in.
It's important to note that
this isn't a comedy either, although there's a couple amusing moments.
No one is played to be a complete fool, although Seth Green's character
Marbles does provide the occasional comic relief.
Other reviewers have talked
about the relationship of the father and son, or the test of his manhood and
how living up to his father's expectations is what this film is all
about. Any film that is decent should work on several levels, and the
one I found most interesting was the dichotomy between the younger set of
friends and the older.
While words like honor, family
and loyalty are nothing but shams for the older generation of mobsters, much
like the very mob itself is a mere sham compared to it's hay day, these
things clearly ring true for the younger set. The four younger men
stand together, even in the face of danger, while the older generation are
concerned only with their own individual well being. It's this aspect
that made the film most interesting for me.
The best performances come from
the younger generation as well. Malkovich doesn't do much to make the
part his, and isn't a particularly convincing mobster. Hopper has very
little screen time, and doesn't do much to make it memorable. There's
also some great work by the older sheriff of Wibeaux (the small town were
things go from bad to worse), who along with the deputy, provides an
interesting contrast to the big city mob characters.
Rating - Rent It.
A good Vin Diesel film - that's almost a rarity. But check out this
movie if for nothing else to see his speech in the small town bar about what
it really means to be a 'tough guy'. I'm actually looking forward to
him in roles that force him to act, rather than just appear.
Spoiler Laden Thoughts
So let's talk about the plot in slightly greater detail...
As I mentioned above, the loyalty, and the awful result for Marbles and
Scarpa, is what really caught my interest. The film shows the good
within the bad (the young mobsters) and the bad within the good (the sheriff
and deputy). Life isn't as black and white as we'd like it, and that's
one of the several areas this film explores.
The fatalism combined with
loyalty and self sacrifice of Taylor, Diesel's character, was the high point
of the film. For him, right and wrong are very straight forward, and
his loyalty to his friends a top priority, right up to the final scene when
he's willing to die to save Mattie. Uncle Teddy was right - if Taylor
had been in that basement when he was 12 instead of Mattie, he would have
pulled the trigger without hesitation. But that's not because Taylor
is a bad man - it's because everything is black and white for him.
Mattie sees all the gray.
I did think it was a bit odd
that they shot Scarpa before dealing with the local law at the end. It
seems to me that they would have realized that a fire fight in a small space
like that was just as likely to take them out as their opponents, but the
heat of the moment could have easily taken control.
If you have time, check out the
deleted scenes with the director commentary. There's some interesting
stuff there, including the fact that several other key story lines ended up
on the cutting room floor. There was plans to have the sheriff double
cross the deputy, and even to show more about Mattie and his nick name
'dimes'. Nothing that was cut shouldn't have been, but it does do a
good job of showing the thought processes in the editing stage.