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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Last Rites of Joe May - Dennis Farina Movie

Joe May (Dennis Farina) is an aging street hustler who has just left the hospital after a two month bout with pneumonia. He returns after his two month hiatus to discover his possessions are all gone, his friends are distant and his apartment has been rented out to a young woman and child after his landlord presumed him dead. He develops an unlikely and somewhat predictable bond with the young woman and child after discovering the mother is abused by her boyfriend, a local police officer.

Farina is wonderful in a rare lead part. This is not surprising as this man has been playing the role of street tough characters his whole life. Watch him in any of his mob movies or TV police series and you’ve seen him nail this performance before. The difference here is that Farina’s character, Joe, is broke down, broke and still struggling to be respected on the street. He is like an old professional football player trying to get in one more season, not just for the money (which he badly needs), but also for the pride of being a respected street thug.

This is a film that works marvels in subtleties. Chicago is damp, cold and gritty but not overly so. The dialog in the film is tough and well placed but not uncomfortably intense or over spoken like in so many street tough films. Just watch Farina’s presence and you know his character has had a blue collar street hustler life without much explanation (and there isn’t much, just great acting).

The mother, Jenny Rapp (Jamie Anne Allman) and her daughter, Angelina (Meredith Droeger) do a solid job of acting combined with direction (Joe Maggio) that does not let them screw it up. They don’t say much and you don’t know much of their story but you can feel the difficulty of their lives. They are down in their luck, unknown by society (except for an abusive cop) and feel all so real without Maggio letting them become overly sympathetic. All in all this is a good film. Probably an excellent film for a film class or audiences that “get it” because most viewers will feel as though they’ve seen this before only in a more gritty, dialog driven and violent manner (which this film isn’t at all). If you are addicted to all the splash, witty dialog and intensity of a Goodfellas or Casino (masterpiece films in their own right), you won’t get it here. This flick is a study in simple, good, acting, setting, writing and direction.

In the end, Joe must muster his veteran street smarts in an attempt to protect Jenny and her daughter. Tt is the film’s only flaw. It is a predictable conclusion and you’ve seen it all before. But the finale is not melodramatic or too drawn out in anyway. It is a succinct and realistic scene which allows me to forgive it no problem.

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