James DeMonaco's Debut, Staten Island

Featuring Ethan Hawke, looking nothing like a septic-tank cleaner

Native son James DeMonaco overlaps three Staten Island stories, set amid strip-mall Italian joints, tasteless suburban manors, and ship graveyards: Vincent D'Onofrio plays Parmie, a stuffy-voiced, moon-faced mama's-boy mobster wearing Elizabeth Taylor frames; Ethan Hawke, looking nothing like a septic-tank cleaner, plays septic-tank cleaner Sully; and Seymour Cassel plays Jasper, a lonesome deaf-mute deli counterman. After commenting on the cliché of the brutal mob interrogation he is running, Parmie splits to pursue his secret obsession: breaking a Guinness Book record. The anachronistic soundtrack of '60s soul and botched retro newsreel opening suggest time has stopped at the end of the Verrazano-Narrows, while contradicted by further garishly unexpected plot twists: Parmie converts to radical environmentalism; Sully schemes to buy his unborn child IQ-boosting gene therapy; and Jasper supports a gambling habit doing meat-slicer waste disposal for La Cosa Nostra. Throughout, first-time director DeMonaco shows a predilection for white-hot patches of lighting, squeezed close-ups, and actor overindulgence. His poetic realism comes out at a clunky cadence, and at the service of hoary indie conventions: Dramatis personae united in quiet desperation over their outer-borough insignificance—posited here as the Ferry rider's existential state—each gazing longingly at the so-close-yet-so-far Manhattan skyline.

 
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