The trick to making movies about social outcasts is to create characters who are interesting enough to … well, if not exactly like, then at least care for.
No one populates this dual world of hero/antihero better than Harvey Keitel.
Who else but Keitel, for example, do we care about in “Reservoir Dogs”? OK, I’ll give you Tim Roth, but he’s the good guy.
It is Keitel who serves Quentin Tarantino’s ironic purpose. Only his Mr. White holds to a code of honor - arguing for women’s rights, expressing disgust at the obvious sociopathy of Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), breaking with his friends (wrong-headedly as it turns out) to support his dying partner.
And it is Keitel who provides the undercurrent of decency to John Irvin’s “City of Industry,” which is available this week on video.
In this neo-noir, Keitel plays a bad guy with a good man’s soul. He’s an outlaw who lives with the fact that he dwells on society’s fringe, but he doesn’t accept his condition lightly. He understands how few links he has to what most of us would consider normalcy.
And the loss of those links is what fuels his rage.
“City of Industry” concerns a heist (big surprise) gone wrong. It’s a jewel job in where greed overrules loyalty and honor.
Skip (Timothy Hutton) is the leader, a guy who can hotwire a car faster than most people can unlock one. Keitel is his older brother Roy, a sort-of mustache Pete-type from the Midwest whom people in movies keep underestimating.
The other two are Jorge (Wade Dominguez), prison-bound and worried about his family, and Skip (Steven Dorff), cocky and as wild as the rap tunes that he plays full volume.
After Skip betrays his partners, “City of Industry” evolves from a heist movie into a trackdown, with he and Roy searching each other out in the gritty underworld and scrublands of rural Los Angeles. Purely a noir, it could have been more had Ken Solarz’s script utilized the black and Asian gangs as something more than mere symbols.
And Dorff, who looks more like a jockey than a gun-happy tough guy, doesn’t quite hold up his end of the formula.
In the end, though, Keitel is all he has to be. A fountain of suppressed rage, he explodes in one memorable motel-room tantrum of grief. That one scene cements his entry into the neo-noir hall of fame. *** Rated R
The week’s other major releases:
The fight between the British working class and the Tory government, which sees much of its own citizens as “redundant,” has become its own genre. In a number of films, from “My Beautiful Laundrette” to “The Full Monty,” the consequences of unemployment as felt by Britons has been portrayed as both comic and tragic. “Brassed Off,” which is British slang for angry, involves what happens when the government seeks to shut down a Yorkshire coal mine, even though the site is still profitable.
Even as the miners are faced with a tough vote, accept a payoff and close or take a smaller settlement and close anyway, they struggle to keep together the town’s only object of pride: its brass band. Empowered by a stirring performance by Pete Postlethwaite as the band leader, “Brassed Off” is a moving study of lost hope and the denied dreams of ‘90s England. Rated R
This ordinary, if intense and occasionally interesting little movie involves young men who ostensibly sell maps to movie stars home. In actuality, they are male prostitutes. Carlitos (Douglas Spain) is an actor wannabe whose father, Pepe (Efrain Figueroa) arranges “dates” for Carlitos and the others. His hold over Carlitos is a promise that he will use his connection to win the boy his acting break. When Carlitos meets a sex-starved soap star and arranges his own break, however, Pepe’s wrath threaten to engulf his whole family - his submissive sister, his inhibited brother and emotionally unbalanced mother. Writer-director Miguel Arieta is known as the “Latino Tarantino,” but this title is a bit overstated. “Star Maps” is average in every way, although Figueroa and Lysa Flores, who plays the sister, do have their moments. Rated R
For much of its run, “Event Horizon” is a competent, atmospheric variation on Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic “Alien.” A rescue crew takes off in pursuit of what turns out to be an experimental spaceship that, while testing out a revolutionary star-drive system, disappeared without a trace. Years later it has reappeared, but all that’s left of the crew is body parts. Turns out the experiment tapped into another dimension that … well, let’s just say that the other dimension is a place where Marilyn Manson is considered Mickey Mouse. The presences of such performers as Sam Neill (as the man who invented the star drive), Laurence Fishburne (as the rescue ship’s captain) and Kathleen Quinlan, along with the impressive production design, keep the film moving. But its final act, which takes us into Clive Barker-land, is pure hell - literally. Rated R
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