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Case Number 19554

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City Island

Anchor Bay // 2009 // 104 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Chris Claro (Retired) // August 26th, 2010

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All Rise...

Judge Chris Claro has been to 'em all: Long, Staten, Gilligan's. But this is his first visit to City Island.

Editor's Note

Our review of City Island (Blu-Ray), published August 23rd, 2010, is also available.

The Charge

Clam diggers vs. mussel suckers.

Opening Statement

Andy Garcia has made his bones on his high-intensity, laugh-free portrayals of gangsters (The Godfather: Part III), casino owners (Ocean's Eleven), and cops (Black Rain), so he is not the first actor that leaps to mind when casting the patriarch of a dysfunctional family in a comedy. But City Island gives Garcia the opportunity to ease up on the throttle and indulge in a character role.

Facts of the Case

As a native of City Island, Vince Rizzo (Garcia) is a clam digger, son of a mussel sucker, the nickname for one who emigrated to the spit of land that sits off the coast of the Bronx. As Vince combats his middle-age torpor by pursuing a dream of being an actor, his secrets, along with those of his wife and children, turn the Rizzo house into a den of comic deceit.

The Evidence

City Island is a comedy as intimate and welcoming as its setting. Described by one character as "New England by way of Washington Heights," the small fishing village with the view of the world's most majestic skyline is an anomaly, an oasis of small-town living plunked down amidst the thrum of New York City.

Prison guard Vince—furtively sneaking smokes and concealing his acting ambitions from his family—lives with his wife (Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife) and son (Ezra Miller, Californication) in a house handed down from his grandfather. As deep as his roots on City Island run, Vince—like Tony Manero, another outer-borough anti-hero with aspirations of greatness—sees another island, Manhattan, as the place where his Brando-inspired dreams can come true.

Vince's marriage to Joyce has settled into monotony and his relationships with Vince Jr. and his daughter, Vivian—played by Garcia's real-life daughter, Dominik—are typically fractious. When Vince discovers that an inmate is the son he never knew—and his wife never knew about—he sets about trying to make things right, creating havoc in the process.

Garcia's Vince is a man for whom things have worked out both exactly right and not at all; a seemingly healthy, if boisterous, marriage, a daughter going to college on a scholarship—or is she?—and his namesake, a wiseass teenage son, all point to a happy, settled midlife. But Vince's itch to express himself onstage—and his shame in trying to scratch it—deepens the character and forces Garcia to forgo his usual technique of steely taciturnity as a prelude to explosive confrontation and show Vince's conflict in more subtle ways. What results is Garcia's most nuanced performance in years.

Margulies, as well, scores as Vince's resentful, suspicious wife. While it's always interesting to see someone associated with series television stretch in a character part, it can sometimes come off more as an acting school exercise than a true character portrayal. But Margulies never condescends to her character, and conveys Joyce's dismay at the possibility of losing her husband with depth and honesty.

As an acting classmate of Vince's, Emily Mortimer is, not surprisingly, spot-on. While her sophisticated and worldly Molly maintains a chaste relationship with Vince, it's clear to see how seductive her carefree, cosmopolitan attitude is to a rule-follower like Vince, even after she reveals her motivations. As Mortimer removes Molly's masks, her vulnerability becomes more and more touching.

But as far as vulnerability goes, the City Island prize goes to newcomer Hope Glendon-Ross, a plus-sized actress who plays Cheryl, the object of Vince Jr's. interest. Neither the character nor the actress makes any apologies about her size, and her gentle manner and winning attitude toward the younger Rizzo makes Cheryl both the most honest and the most compassionate character in City Island.

Writer/director Raymond De Felitta (Two Family House) keeps City Island moving at a leisurely but economical pace. The interactions among the characters are organic and the setting provides an almost fable-like backdrop to the story.

That backdrop and the people in front of it look superb. Though De Felitta shot City Island on an indie budget, it doesn't look that way. The film's jewel-box setting looks pristine and Anchor Bay's transfer maintains the gorgeous hues of cinematographer Vajna Cernjul (30 Rock). The disc's 5.1 Dolby sound is equally good, spotlighting a soundtrack of classic tunes and jazz pieces composed and performed by De Felitta himself. Extras are a workmanlike package of deleted scenes, commentary from De Felitta and Garcia, and "Dinner with the Rizzos," in which the director sits down with the cast for a lively, if not very informative, conversation about the film.

Closing Statement

City Island is a small gem of a film bolstered by Garcia's surprising comic performance. Let it wash over you and revel in its revelations.

The Verdict

Not guilty by reason of salinity.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 90
Extras: 85
Acting: 95
Story: 90
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile

Studio: Anchor Bay
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Comedy

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Deleted Scenes
• Featurette


• IMDb

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