Judge Patrick Bromley narrowly avoided this mediocre crime flick.
How far would you go to escape a life that is closing in on you?
Far. Is "far" correct?
Facts of the Case
Mike Mandaro (Kevin Zegers, Transamerica) is caught between two worlds: in one life, he's a promising photography student with a scholarship to NYU and an opportunity to study under his idol, Reyerson (Roger Rees, The Scorpion King). In his other life, he's a driver for a car service run by the Brooklyn mafia, caught up in a world of crime and violence thanks to childhood friend Nicky Shades (Eddie Cahill, Lords of Dogtown) and his disapproving bookie father (Vincent D'Onofrio, Crooked Hearts). When Mike meets a beautiful young photographer (Sophia Bush, One Tree Hill), he sees his ticket out of the criminal underworld and into a legitimate life. But will getting out be that easy?
The problem with most movies about mafia life is that they seem to be made by people who only know what they've seen in other, better movies. Scorsese already wrote the book on movies about low-level hoods living life on the streets of New York. Everything else is pretty much a pale imitation.
That's the 2008 coming-of-age/crime drama The Narrows: a pale imitation of a dozen better movies (chiefly Scorsese's own Mean Streets). It's not a terrible film—it's well-made and features a handful of decent performances—but it offers nothing new to say on its subject and the things it's repeating don't need to be said anymore. We get it. Once you're in, it's hard to get out. Loyalty is everything. Drugs and the mob don't mix. With the wealth of great mob movies from The Godfather to GoodFellas to Donnie Brasco (and, though technically a TV show, let us never forget The Sopranos), an overly familiar and unambitious movie such as The Narrows doesn't have a lot to offer.
Having said that, there will always be an audience for movies like this, and fans of the genre could do worse than this generic but mostly inoffensive offering. The Narrows' central romance between Zegers and Bush is the stuff of WB drama—he wears a tank top (he's Italian!) and broods sufficiently while she does a lot of acting with her mouth—but it's got enough angst to keep it watchable. More interesting is the balance that's explored between Zegers' life at school (not only does the movie know about the mafia from other movies, but college, too; hearing how the screenwriter thinks college students speak to one another was rather amusing to me. I've heard conversations between college kids, and they don't sound like this anywhere but in the movies) and his life as a lackey for the mob. The two don't intersect all that much, which I actually appreciated; there's a duality to Mike's life that I found a lot more understated than the rest of the what's in the film. Other elements, like the fate of drug-addicted Nicky Shades (he's always wearing sunglasses, see?), is arbitrarily wedged in—likely an element of the original novel (Heart of the Old Country by Tim McLoughlin) that writer Tatiana Blackington could never find a way to successfully adapt. The same goes for almost the entire third act, when the movie creates a crisis out of nowhere that, while mildly suspenseful and interesting in its own way, has little to do with the movie that precedes it. The "twist" written for D'Onofrio's character is perhaps the most inexcusable, undoing much of the good work he had previously done in the film.
Image Entertainment's DVD of The Narrows boasts a surprisingly strong picture, largely thanks to DP Seamus Tierney's impressive, slick cinematography. The 1.78 anamorphic image is sharp and faithfully reproduces the stylized, muted color palette; black levels, in particular, are strong throughout. The 5.1 surround does a reasonably good job of delivering the dialogue in balance with the music and occasional bursts of violence, though it's nothing special.
The disc features a commentary track with writer Tatiana Blackington and director François A. Velle. Though Velle struggles with the English language somewhat, the two provide a decent overview of the production and the story; it's a dry discussion, but not a total waste of time. Slightly better is the series of behind-the-scenes interviews with Blackington and Velle, actors Zegers, Bush and D'Onofrio (each interviewed separately) and Tim McLoughlin, author of Heart of the Old Country, the book upon which The Narrows is based. Rounding out the bonus features is the movie's original theatrical trailer.
Though generic and overwrought, The Narrows is a passable time waster for fans of the Mean Streets-knockoff genre. The younger cast members hardly burn up the screen, but the performances of veterans like Titus Welliver (Gone Baby Gone) and especially Vincent D'Onofrio—plus stylish direction from Velle—help rescue the movie from being totally forgettable.
We've seen it all before.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
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