Movie Review – City Hall (1996)

Or the dirty underbelly of American machine politics…

Some movies are just for watching and then forgetting them. They are for pure entertainment. But others like “Gods and Generals” are good enough to be a part of the curriculum in Political Science, American Studies or Sociology departments of all universities.

CITY HALL is one such flick.

If you need to understand the intricate ways in which the machine politics bosses in New York City used to run their empire through an intricate and not-totally-wholesome chain of favors and counter-favors, then this is the movie to see. Granted, it’s “only” fiction but most of it rings possible enough and true.

Al Pacino, as usual, excels as the Mayor of the world’s most opulent and vibrant megapolis, a man of genuine feelings and good intentions who has nevertheless compromised a lot from his earlier idealism and integrity while “trading up” his way through the tough maze of NYC politics.

John Cussack (a younger Kevin Spacey in my view) plays the firecracker Deputy Mayor, Pacino’s right-hand man in times good or bad, a smart-aleck start-up from Louisiana who ends up as one of the bright beacons of hope in this otherwise somewhat depressing story.

Danny Aiello fits so well into the role of Democratic party boss in Brooklyn, you may think he was born for the role. His sudden shift of gears in that restaurant scene where, after realizing that he won’t get what he wanted for his business partners, he suddenly gets up and leaves Cussack all alone is a testimony to the heartless power game underneath all that back-slapping friendly facade that floats on the surface.

Bridget Fonda (daughter of Henry and sister of Peter) is precise and focused in her role as the lawyer of the spouse of the police detective who gets shot by a mobster under questionable circumstances. Her semi-romantic love-hate relationship with Cussack is a subplot line that holds well.

The plot of the movie revolves around how the sentencing of the son of Brooklyn’s famous mobster was changed from a 20-to-30 years jail term to a mere probation. The accidental murder of a six year old African-American child propels the story fast forward just like the hit-and-run incident that involved an African-American youth did the same for Tom Wolfe’s “The Bonfire of the Vanities” (another fantastic NYC novel and movie).

At the end it turns out that from the Judge of the NY Supreme Court and the Mayor down to miserable probation officers, a lot of people were involved in the favor to save the skin of mafia boss’ son. Six people lose their lives in the process but “truth and justice” prevails at the end, as expected.

About the Author: AKDSEO

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