Night And The City
Director: Irwin Winkler.
Screenplay: Richard Price.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Jessica Lange, Alan King, Cliff Gorman, Jack Warden, Eli Wallach, Barry Primus, Gene Kirkwood, Anthony Canarozzi, Byron Utley, Regis Philbin, Michael Badalucco, Michael Rispoli, Chuck Low.
“Harry, you ever hear of Murphy’s Law? Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. That law was dedicated to guys like you”.
Coming off the back of Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear remake in 1991, Robert DeNiro and Jessica Lange collaborated again a year later on another remake; this time Jules Dassin’s 1950’s film-noir, Night and the City. The original had a lot of admirers which can often lead to a retread being heavily criticised and even though I haven’t seen Dassin’s version, Irwin Winkler’s certainly didn’t deserve the much maligned reception it received.
Two-bit, incompetent lawyer Harry Fabian (Robert DeNiro) takes whatever unethical approach is required to defend his clients but when he finds himself involved in a lawsuit with a prize boxer, he develops and interest in the boxing world. In another of his get-rich-quick schemes he decides to stage his own boxing event but in doing so, he steps on the toes of the local mob boss and has to borrow money off everyone he knows to put his plan together.From the offset we overhear Sam the Sham’s Wooly Bully played out to the sidewalks of Manhattan as DeNiro’s Harry Fabian shuffles in and out of the busy commuters. It’s a brisk opening and sets the tone for the rest of the film. Fabian is a man that’s always on the move and by his own admission “I’m like a shark: I stop moving, I die”. He’s a very colourful character and it’s another one of DeNiro’s interestingly offbeat portrayals that’s not unlike his desperate hanger-on Rupert Pupkin from The King Of Comedy. Fabian is basically a no-good, shyster who ambulance chases his way to a living. He lacks scruples and a moral integrity and anyone that gets close to him, simply isn’t safe from his financial shenanigans. He really is a hard man to like but that’s all the more reason to single out DeNiro’s magnetic performance. As a viewer, you don’t trust this man as far as you could throw him but DeNiro still makes you care. Despite his faults, Fabian is still shown to have a modicum of decency and it’s a decency that DeNiro teases out of the role.
He’s not the only one on form, though, the entire supporting cast deliver very strong work; Jessica Lange’s ambitious but bored waitress, Cliff Gorman as her controlling and suspicious husband, the great Jack Warden as DeNiro’s business partner and Alan King as the local mobster “Boom Boom” who takes a strong disliking to Fabian. It’s an eclectic mix of personalities that make up this quintessential New York story as cinematographer Tak Fujimoto makes great use of locations to capture the flavour and vibrancy of the city itself.
All positives aside, though, this film seems to have came in for some very heavy criticism; there has been complaints about it’s tone, a muddled script, poor direction and badly judged performances but I really didn’t see it that way. DeNiro’s kinetic energy brings a very lively pace to the film and Irwin Winkler’s direction handles the pace more than admirably and employs the use of some impressive tracking shots along the way. Even these weren’t good enough for some, though, as he was criticised for trying too hard to be like Scorsese (who was originally onboard to direct before passing it on). I can accept that the ending of the film loses a little steam but, for the most part, Richard Price’s screenplay is filled with humour, sharp dialogue and three-dimensional characters. There’s not much more that’s required.An under the radar and vastly underrated slice of New York life that benefits greatly from, a rarely offscreen, DeNiro in one of his most enjoyable roles. Forget the critics, there’s much to recommend this and it’s a film that should be on every DeNiro fan’s list.
Trivia: This was the first of two films written by Richard Price that Martin Scorsese left the helm as director. The second film was Clockers in which Scorsese turned over the project to Spike Lee so he could instead direct Casino.