Judge Roman Martel was relieved this wasn't a movie about Geometry.
Two days can last a lifetime.
You know, a sarcastic reviewer may retort, "94 minutes can last a lifetime." Luckily, I'm not sarcastic; not at all, no sir.
Facts of the Case
It's 1964 in the Five Corners neighborhood of New York. Heinz (John Tuturro, Transformers) has just returned after spending some time behind bars for the attempted rape of Linda (Jodie Foster, Panic Room). Heinz was stopped by Harry (Tim Robbins, Jacob's Ladder), the son of a cop. Linda's boyfriend Jamie (Todd Graff, The Abyss) was injured during that fight and now walks with a limp.
Once word gets out that Heinz is back on the streets, Linda tries to get Harry to protect her again, much to the chagrin of Jamie. But Harry has been inspired by the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and refuses to harm anyone. Instead he's planning on going down to Mississippi to participate in the protests there. Its only a matter of time before Heinz makes his move and it involves stolen penguins.
The plot synopsis make this sound like a compelling story about a neighborhood dealing with a disturbed individual. From the cover of the DVD, you may even think this is a gritty drama about serious issues. But Five Corners is a bit more complicated than that. First of all, there are quite a few little sub-stories going on. You've got the murder of an algebra teacher by bow and arrow, and the two girls getting high sniffing glue who end up being sold to a couple of vandals. Then there are the odd moments dealing with Harry's Saint Bernard named "The Buddha," details of two clueless cops who are just wandering around, and a nearly ten minute sequence of two couples riding on top of elevators. In the end, all these stories sorta, kinda intersect.
Five Corners takes an absurd view of life, with the strange tangling itself up with the normal. Some of it is pretty funny, like the scene with Jamie and Linda dealing with a penguin. There's even a poetic beauty in the whole elevator sequence.
Parts of what makes these moments work is the acting. John Turturro is very good as the obviously disturbed Heinz. He's at once intimidating, childlike, and unstable; bringing a great deal to his scenes because his character seems capable of anything. Jodie Foster makes Linda immediately likable; you don't want anything bad to happen to her. Todd Graff has some great one liners as Jamie. His sarcasm hides the frustration of being unable to protect the girl he loves. Robbins is also good as a young man who chooses non-violence to do more with his life. And yet the more we learn about him, the more we begin to question his reasons.
Image provides a decent Blu-ray upgrade. The 1080p picture is a bit on the soft side, but for an independent film made in 1987, it looks pretty good. The PCM stereo track fares a bit better, with a good mix of dialogue and music. The major downside: there are no extras. I'd love to hear from the director, writer, or even some of the stars about their work on this film, especially because I was so darned confused by it.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Absurdist view of the 60's. Drama about trouble in a small neighborhood. Quirky comedy about off beat characters. Five Corners tries to do it all and ends up not really doing any of it well. The tone shifts so wildly from scene to scene, we're never sure how we feel about the whole.
The penguin subplot is the perfect example. To show his devotion to Linda, Heinz steals two penguins from the Bronx Zoo. He meets her at a fountain and places the penguins in the water. It's a great sequence, as the little birds swim around. Linda tries to explain that she can't keep the birds, and that they'd be better off at the zoo. Then Heinz grabs one of the penguins and precedes to beat it to death. It's almost funny, and maybe if it was in a Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch it would be. But the way its shot, the way Turturro unleashes the rage, and Foster's horrified reaction, it's disturbing. And when you follow it up with a silly scene dealing with the glue sniffing girls, your brain nearly jumps ship right there.
I get the feeling director Tony Bill wasn't sure how to handle John Patrick Shanley's absurdist script. Part of it is the way he directs the acting. Yes, Turturro is good, but he's so intense and disturbing it feels like he belongs in a different movie. If he was more cartoonish or over the top, his scenes could have been more in line with some of the material he worked with. Shanley gave us Joe vs. the Volcano and if that's any sign of how this movie should have been approached, I think something got lost in translation.
Five Corners leaves you with questions, but you end up so distanced from the story that you don't care about the answers. That's the deal breaker. Fans of these actors might want to give this one a rental to catch their performances, but most folks are going to find this a frustrating experience.
Not guilty of lasting a lifetime, but guilty of never finding its voice.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
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