Sony // 1992 // 135 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Gutierrez (Retired) // April 28th, 2004
"If the journey is not what you expected, do not be surprised." -- Hasari Pal
Put simply, City of Joy is a story about those trying to find what they've lost. While dangerously skirting on the edges of schmalztdom, City of Joy manages to retain its themes of self-discovery and growth.
Max Lowe (Patrick Swayze) loses a patient on the operating table and flees to Calcutta. Simultaneously, Hasari Pal (Om Puri) uproots himself and his family to find a better life. After being robbed and beaten, Max is saved by Hasari and eventually ingratiates himself with the Pal family. While Hasari finds work pulling a rickshaw, Max begins aiding British nurse Joan Bethel (Pauline Collins) at her clinic. Eventually, all three must overcome their personal hardships and get out from under the thumb of neighborhood boss, Ghatakr (Shyamanand Jalan), and his son.
I don't normally associate Patrick Swayze and his films with positive messages of self-actualization and finding a home (and I don't mean a Road House), but this one has some thing going for it that Next of Kin didn't: character.
At the risk of going off on a tangent, I must confess that I love films where more happens with a character than with a story. City of Joy works so well because it allows life to happen to its characters. Sure, there's a plot -- neighborhood rises up to oppose its tyrannical landowning rival, blah, blah, blah -- but at the heart of this film is really nothing more than the experiences of a couple of guys trying to make it in Calcutta (not make it with each other, though). Hasari Pal and his struggle made watching this film worthwhile. Pal wants only to do one thing: provide for his family legally and respectfully. He does everything humanly possible to protect them. Om Puri is a phenomenal talent who brings a great strength and humility to his role. I can't think of anyone who wouldn't want a father like Hasari. His love for his family and his constant fight for them was actually touching. I normally roll my eyes at sentiment, but it really worked here. I was far more interested in Hasari than Max. Max's plight truly pales in comparison. Max is bound by red tape and beaten up, but it's still known he can land on his feet on any time. Max's problem is he doesn't know who he is yet. Sadly, there isn't much for Joan Bethel to do but stand around being British and acting as Max's conscience.
Director Roland Joffé made me feel like I was there; India looked vibrant, muggy, and suffocating all at the same time. Joffé managed to get some great performances out of his actors, including Swayze.
For those Charles Bronson fans out there, the disc begins automatically playing a Death Wish trailer, before segueing into Gandhi and Lawrence of Arabia. I understand how the latter two connect to the main feature, but Death Wish? Thankfully, the previews can be sidestepped by skipping to the next chapter or to the main menu
Besides English, the film can also be watched in badly dubbed French.
Columbia TriStar dropped the ball on this one. I would have a liked a commentary by Joffé or Puri or even Swayze. Also, the transfer was inconsistent; at times it felt as though someone took a razor to the screen. During one scene, the image lightened and darkened repeatedly before righting itself. With a movie so reliant on color to establish mood, Columbia TriStar certainly could have done a little more for a movie barely over a decade old. While claiming to be remastered in High Definition, the opening ten minutes look well worn.
City of Joy is one of those movies that I may not go out of my way to see, but would sit and watch whenever it was on. Strong performances make this movie come alive.
City of Joy is free to go. Columbia TriStar is sentenced to community service until it learns how to properly remaster its films.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 135 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13