From: Subject: Date: April 21, 2005 3:53:51 PM CDT Hankblog

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Movie Retrospectives: Professional Killers
Prizzi's Honor

Professional killers are frequently staples of mob movies, though rarely are they the centerpiece for the mob film itself. The dynamics of family and trust are more compelling in mob films than those that pull the trigger, in my opinion. Prizzi's Honor is a mob film that puts the focus on the killers. It winds up a bit lacking for it.

Jack Nicholson is Charley Partanna. Charley was a made man from day one. His father Angelo is practically family to crime boss Don Corrado Prizzi (William Hickey in a fun little role) and the Don's two sons Dominic and Eduardo. On the day of his birth, the Don swore that Charley would always be one of the family. Charley swears a blood oath when he's old enough to always defend the family's honor.

At a family wedding, Charley happens to notice and catch the eye of a stunning woman in lavender. He gets one dance with her, before she disappears. He fears he might never see her again.

Events conspire to bring them together, as they are wont to do in films like these. The fall in love in a whirlwind romance where he learns her name is Irene (Kathleen Turner). He also learns that she's also a contract killer. And eventually things turn to the point that they may have to kill each other.

A critically acclaimed film that garnered eight Oscar noms when it came out in 1985, this is not a film that has weathered the near 20 years hence very well. It's played and billed as a black comedy, but it doesn't have nearly the bite necessary to pull it off well.

Part of the weakness for me lies in the romance between Nicholson and Turner. Charley and Irene are painted as passionately in love and willing to do anything for each other in short order. None of that comes across for me in anyway. A lot of that burden lies on Nicholson's shoulders. While he hadn't yet completely devolved into the caricature of himself he is today, he just isn't believable to me as a wiseguy for the mob. I mean he plays better than, say, Ben Affleck in Gigli, but that's not saying a whole hell of a lot.

Turner is far better as Irene. She has always had a good on-screen presence as a seductress. Having the voice she does always gives her character more weight in that department. And she's pretty good at giving Irene some depth, proving to Charley and the audience that she's not everything she appears at any time during the story.

The strongest performances come from the supporting cast. William Hickey is an actor whose name you may not recognize but whose voice you never forget. He gives a really great performance as the Don. He's not Brando in The Godfather, and that's really why it works so well. Hickey gives it his own personal touches and it shows.

Anjelica Huston is the other notable actor as Dominic's daughter Maerose. She has a history with Charley that led to her becoming an outcast from the family. She plays everyone she can off every angle to try and get back in, and more importantly collect a pound of flesh or two that she thinks she's owed along the way. She won the film's only Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, and it was very well earned.

The movie plays with a high cheese factor because of how poorly its aged, but it still has some fun moments. The black comedy doesn't play as strongly as some of the family drama, but it works in spots. But that is what happens when you try to focus on the muscle, and not the family, I say.

Tomorrow: John Woo's The Killer (in all its digital glory :-).