Friday February 24, 1995
The Italian American buddies in "Federal Hill" spend a lot of time joshing and jawboning. They like to touch off little hostilities in each other--it's a way to pass the time and let off steam away from their mates, their parents.
It must be a right of passage for young filmmakers to emulate Martin Scorsese's "Mean Streets." Who would have predicted back in 1973 that it would become the touchstone for an entire generation of independent filmmakers? Its influence has been primarily thematic rather than stylistic, and not always a boon. At worst, in a film like "Laws of Gravity," we're reduced to watching a bunch of punks mouth off and shove each other--all in the name of "personal" filmmaking.
"Federal Hill" isn't awful. There's energy in the joy-riding scenes and the first-time director, Michael Corrente, who wrote the script based on his experiences growing up in the Italian American enclave of Federal Hill, R.I., brings out the snap in his performers. But there is nothing terribly different or exciting about what he shows us; the film is gripping in a conventional, formulaic way. The characters go through their motions in a fashion that seems equal parts "Mean Streets" and the Dead End Kids.
Nicky (Anthony De Sando) is the handsome smoothie who wants to rise out of Federal Hill by romancing a co-ed from nearby Brown University, Wendy (Libby Langdon), who first approaches him to buy some cocaine for a party. He's smitten by her upscale glamour; she's turned on by his wrong-side-of-the-tracks appeal. He seduces her at his apartment by making spaghetti * a l'olio . They have sex standing up in the stacks at the Brown library. Wanna bet this all comes to a bad end?
Nicky's best friend, Ralph (Nicholas Turturro, of "NYPD Blue"), is a hothead burglar who only calms down when he's sitting in with his father, a near-catatonic bricklayer who can't take care of himself. Ralph stays with Nicky, even sleeps in his bed. This bed-sharing is meant to be platonic but there's a vicious gay-baiting scene involving Ralph and a street hustler that indicates Corrente had more ambitious things on his mind. Ralph is constantly trying to douse Nicky's infatuation with Wendy, and his reasons are not wrong, just his motives.
The Nicky-Ralph duet is equivalent to the Harvey Keitel-Robert De Niro confab in "Mean Streets." The peacemaker and the hot head. And, of course, the Mob figures big in all of this. One of their friends, Frankie (Michael Raynor), has a capo for a father--Frank Vincent's Sal--and Ralph, unconcerned, crosses him. Sal is the kind of guy who carries on a one-sided conversation with his cowering son while punching a heavy bag.
Shot in black and white on an $80,000 budget, "Federal Hill" is best when it keeps to what it knows: the street rhythms of these despairing toughs. When it ventures into social consciousness, as in the scenes with Nicky looking forlornly through a fence at the well-off Brown students gamboling across a campus he'll never attend, it's clunky. There's something antiquated, almost Depression-era, about Corrente's take on these guys' lives. He's so intent on keeping them downtrodden that he skimps on their flair. They don't seem as bad off as they're made out to be.
Federal Hill, 1995. R, for strong language\f7 , * some sexuality and drug content. A Trimark presentation. Director-producer-screenwriter Michael Corrente. Executive producers Ron Kastner, Randy Finch Leroy Leach. Cinematographer Richard Crudo. Editor Kate Sanford. Music Bob Held, David Bravo. Production design Robert Schleinig. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. Nicholas Turturro as Ralph. Anthony De Sando as Nicky. Libby Langdon as Wendy. Michael Raynor as Frank.