A Bronx Tale is more than a wonderful portrait of growing up around the mob in the 1960s. Written by Chazz Palminteri, directed by Robert De Niro and starring both, the movie is a primer on life. No film this side of The Godfather provides as many valuable life lessons.
In the midst of a dinner party in his honor, Capone (Robert De Niro) takes out a Louisville Slugger and delivers a tribute to baseball as the All-American sport. As his underlings smoke cigars and chuckle in agreement, Capone circles a huge round table—finally stopping behind one nodding toadie. He briefly speaks of betrayal and then applies a few Ruthian swings to the employee’s skull.
Much of the time, a movie just can’t offer the sort of character depth and development a book does. It’s totally implausible that a man recently released from a psychiatric hospital would find himself with the weight of his family’s livelihood on his shoulders as he performs in a dance competition with a recently widowed, slightly nymphomaniac young woman.
The cast is major league. Pam Grier reestablished her career playing the title character and Robert Forster got an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Max Cherry, the soft-spoken and world-weary bail bondsman. But it is Samuel L. Jackson, over-the-top as the gunrunner and principal bad guy Ordell Robbie, who steals this picture.
The film succeeds because of strong performances by its two stars. Veteran comic actor Billy Crystal is perfectly cast as nebbishy New York psychiatrist Ben Sobel…Into his life walks Paul Vitti (Robert De Niro, doing an obvious send-up of former New York mob boss John Gotti). Vitti is a feared killer, but he has developed a problem. His hands shake when he’s about to club an informer.
That all changed when we were introduced to Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) in The Bourne Identity. Based on the novel by Robert Ludlum, Bourne is a former CIA operative who is struck with amnesia after a mission goes wrong. Directed by Doug Liman, Identity is fast-paced, constantly layering more and more information about who Bourne was.
Not that Machete ever feels like an Oliver Stone film, but it’s a pleasant surprise to find that this supposedly brainless piece of mainstream entertainment has something on its mind other than Lindsay Lohan’s breasts, Jessica Alba’s ass and Michelle Rodriguez’s abdominal muscles.