neo-noir.' The meaning? A film that uses the similar jumping off point of the classic film noir movies from the late 1940's and into the 1950's while adding something new, something fresh in terms of style or story that wasn't readily available. Today's neo-noir, 1997's City of Industry.
In Palm Springs, ex-con Lee Egan (Timothy Hutton) has bought his way into a potentially highly lucrative heist, one that could net over $3 million. His friend, Jorge (Wade Dominguez), is on-board to help with Lee's brother, Roy (Harvey Keitel), even agreeing to come out of retirement with such a payday awaiting them. Rounding out Lee's crew is their getaway driver, the fiery, feisty Skip (Stephen Dorff). What is the job exactly? Black market diamonds are scheduled to arrive at a Palm Springs diamond broker with a Russian mobster arriving to pick them up. While there's always the potential for craziness and the unexpected, this job seems pretty straightforward if potentially very dangerous. Lee, Roy and Co. go about putting all the pieces together, but with that much money on the line, you can never really fully trust anyone...can you?
So neo-noir, it's one of those weird descriptions. It's vague really, allowing for some personal interpretations depending on the film. When I think of it, I think of movies like the hyper-violent, hyper-stylized flicks like Drive and To Live and Die in L.A. (of which I loved both a whole freaking lot). 'City' is more traditional to its noir roots with its bleak, downright unpleasant world full of betrayals and back-stabbings where money is not only a powerful motivator; it may be the only motivator. I'd never heard of this crime drama from director John Irvin, but it's certainly an interesting flick.
'City' is an interesting finished product. With its opening credits, I thought I was getting into an uber-stylish crime drama. Hyper-fast editing, black and white photography mixed with color photography, it felt like quite a scene-setter. A bit misleading because Irvin's film isn't that stylish. Hmm, what word to use instead? Let's say grim. Downright grim. This isn't a stylish criminal underworld where small-time crooks win in the end. This is a bloody, betrayal-riddled world where loyalty comes cheap and usually ends up with a knife/bullet (Your choice!) in your back. That lack of all hope reminded me some of so many French crime dramas where there's a sense of doom and foreboding that the characters seem fully aware of...but continue on regardless. Through all that bloody chaos, there's a hard-fought honor among thieves.
Who better to bring that to the forefront that one of the coolest actors ever, Mr. Harvey Keitel! I'd watch the man read a telephone book so watching him take a crack at a mostly silent anti-hero is a step above for me! Keitel's Roy is all business even when it comes to working with his brother, giving him no slack. He's a professional, a businessman when it comes to pulling a job. It's only in the second half of the movie when the story takes a severe turn do we see the depths Roy will go to when he's been wronged. Like the best anti-heroes, Keitel makes it look effortless. He steals scenes without doing much at all, but his presence alone carries whole stretches of movies. When there are outbursts -- whether it be emotionally or physically -- it comes out like a volcano erupting. Little warning but when you see it happen...just watch out. Excellent leading part for Mr. Keitel.
There's no huge star power here for 'City' but what's there is choice. Dorff is excellent at playing the possibly unhinged Skip, a worthy adversary when a massive amount of cash is on the line. Hutton and Dominguez are solid in smaller parts as well to round out the crew. Who else? How about Famke Janssen as Rachel, Jorge's wife who's become increasingly displeased with her husband's line of work. Lucy Liu -- a very topless Lucy Liu -- makes a quick appearance as a stripper who is holding onto some valuable information while Elliott Gould makes an uncredited appearance as a crime kingpin with his hand in everything dark and sinister in the city.
If 'City' has a weak point, it comes in the pacing and too-familiar story. There's a pretty major twist about the 30-minute mark -- I ain't much for giving away spoilers -- that seems to re-energize things nicely...for a touch. Then things fall back into a slower-paced rhythm that doesn't offer much in the way of surprises. The body count rises pretty quickly through the last hour-plus with some startling violence at times. As bleak as the general tone is throughout, the ending is actually pretty hopeful which is unfortunate if you ask me. The whole story seems to be building to something bleak, downbeat and downright unhappy, but that never quite comes together.
Still, there's just enough to give a slight recommendation. It's called the Harvey Keitel Effect.
City of Industry (1997): ** 1/2 /****