Last Rites of Joe May

A sixtysomething short money hustler who has spent his life on the Chicago streets, Joe May (Dennis Farina) is leaving the hospital after a bout with TB when he notices how much he has withered: His pinkie ring has to go on his ring finger. It’s symptomatic of a man who’s both too restless to retire—“That’s not for me,” he tells pals who’ve quit the life—and not potent enough to do much else. Huffing and puffing to his third-story walk-up, May learns that during his disappearance, his apartment has been rented to nurse and single mother, Jenny (Jamie Anne Allman), and her nine-year-old daughter (Meredith Droeger). They show May charity, and he in turn tries to play man-of-the-house and protector against Jenny’s abusive boyfriend, a Chicago detective. There is much here that recalls other fringe-life last-ditch redemption tales—Atlantic City, Gran Torino, even Sling Blade—and writer/director Joe Maggio, while hyper-attentive to Joe May’s milieu, has a tendency to paper melancholy montage over scenes that might otherwise deepen the makeshift family dynamic. But as a showpiece for Farina, the onetime Chicago policeman recruited into screen acting by Michael Mann, Joe May’s pathos can’t be shrugged off. In his barroom leers and sneers, his blackout-drunk stiff-armed groping of Jenny, and misdirected, weatherbeaten pride, Farina is un-self-conscious and true enough to alchemize cliché.

 
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