The Reeler


May 17, 2007

Brooklyn Rules

A mobbed up drama with enough heart and personality to freshen a stale genre

The first thing I feel bound to mention is that Brooklyn Rules, director Michael Corrente’s lamb of a coming-of-age drama in wolfish, zoot-suit clothing, makes an eerie, excellent double bill with next week’s The Golden Door. I just happened to see the films back to back; the latter’s tale of a Sicilian and his family emigrating through Ellis Island with dreams of a new life in the New World threads through to a century later, and Brooklyn Rules’ group of Italian-American boys struggling with the destructive legacy of their culture and the burden of finding hope for the future. Central characters from each film even share the same name: Mancuso. Surely progress has been made since the illiterate, barefoot peasants made their strange and fearful passage through Ellis Island’s golden door, but the Italian-American dream, as film- and TV-makers keep pointing out, has taken some tellingly perverted detours from the gold standard.

The mob film is by now a genre unto itself, and though there are few-to-no surprises in The Sopranos writer Terence Winter’s script, Brooklyn Rules has enough heart and personality to freshen what could easily be construed as stale cannoli. Essentially the story of a friendship between three boys, Michael Turner (Freddie Prinze Jr.), Bobby Canzoneri (Jerry Ferrara) and Carmine Mancuso (Scott Caan), Corrente opens the film with voiceover, heavy Catholic allusions and the Rolling Stones; these kid met the real mean streets at a young age, so finding a body in a convertible under the Verazzano Bridge caused not but a wrinkle in their grade school ties.

We re-group with the fellas in 1985, as they are on the brink of adult lives and adult choices. Earnest Michael is plugging away at Columbia with dreams of law school and a cute uptown girl (Mena Suvari), sweet, cheap, pious Bobby just wants to marry his girl and get a working class job, and Carmine, the blonde, silky wop with the airhead and big, uh, libido, is rapidly falling under the sway of local mob boss Caesar Manganaro (Alec Baldwin), despite the protestations of his friends. What they share is the painful desire for Respect, something their class and their heritage seems to have put out of reach. Set against the escalating, John Gotti-fueled mob wars of the era, what propels the film from scene to scene, along with some high-caliber ball busting, is the bond between the three boys, the kind of molten, longstanding love that burns the surface clean of its own evidence.

Threatening that bond is the omnivorous Caesar, who’ll take his new recruits good, bad or indifferent; built like a bulkhead with icy blue eyes, Baldwin adds Caesar to his impressive resume of stone cold a-holes, and flash-freezes every scene he is in with the anticipation of his voluble temper. Carmine sees Caesar as his own shortcut to respect and puts Michael, who doesn’t even want to be on the mobster’s radar, in the middle of his efforts to impress. Corrente has fun reviving ‘80s New York -- the bad Cosby sweaters, Cabbage Patch Kids, Culture Club, blue Trans Ams and mustard Chevies -- and revels in evoking the delicate behavioral balance a young man must find to come up in a neighborhood where the wrong look can ruin your night and the wrong fight can ruin your life.

As I said, you can expect the expected with the plot of Brooklyn Rules, where one of the friends must pay for the sins of another, and the third vows revenge, but what might surprise you is the warmth and poignancy accumulated through uniformly strong, moving performances, a solid script and inventive editing. If all roads lead to Rome, as Bobby avows in a rather clueless non sequitur, then at least as many lead away; the film’s resonance far beyond the call and constraints of mobbed up Brooklyn rules is that in choosing opposite directions, sometimes a friendship can only lengthen.

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Comments (1)

well written review!

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