Monthly Archives: August 1988


UNRATED, 103 min, 1988

Director: Errol Morris
Writer: Errol Morris
Stars: Randall Adams, David Harris, Gus Rose

Errol Morris’ The Thin Blue Line is a powerful, shattering and thought-provoking documentary about a miscarriage of justice and the ever-shifting kaleidoscope through which facts can be manipulated.

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Jonathan Demme’s deadpan mob comedy is intense, violent, smart and often very funny. Angela de Marco (Michelle Pfeiffer) is the reluctant wife of mid-level Mafia hood ‘Cucumber’ Frank de Marco (Alec Baldwin). She doesn’t inform her husband when they’ve been invited to dinners, she doesn’t like going to “family” get-togethers, and she hates mingling with the other mob wives (including Joan Cusack, O-Lan Jones, and “Night Court”‘s Ellen Foley). Frank’s boss is the much-feared Tony ‘The Tiger’ Russo (Dean Stockwell). Tony is having an affair with cocktail waitress Karen Lutnick (Nancy Travis). Frank is also sleeping with Karen on the side, and Tony knows this, killing first Karen and then Frank. At the funeral, Tony comes onto Angela, much to the shock and anger of Tony’s psychotically jealous wife Connie (Mercedes Ruehl). Angela is bereaved, but sees her newfound widowhood as an opportunity to leave the life of the Mob for good. She takes her son Joey (Anthony J. Nici) and moves to the city, finds a job, and undergoes a tough search for an apartment. One day, she meets a plumber named Mike Smith (Matthew Modine) who is kind and pretty obviously interested in her – but not all is what it seems. Mike is actually Agent Mike Downey of the FBI who, with partner Ed Benitez (Oliver Platt), has been staking out Angela as a potential conduit through which to finally take down the Mob once and for all. Jonathan Demme started working with Roger Corman exploitation productions such as “Caged Heat” (1974) and “Crazy Mama” (1975) before moving into the mainstream with “Melvin and Howard” (1980). He has since veered from the comedic (“Something Wild”) to the theatrical (the Talking Heads concert documentary “Stop Making Sense” and the Spalding Gray one-man show “Swimming to Cambodia”). Here, working from a screenplay by Barry Strugatz & Mark R. Burns, Demme has made a comedy that is filled to brimming over with plot, which somehow seems restrained and over-the-top at the same time – the tension between the two disciplines of comedy would almost be enough to break the film in half, yet somehow it withstands the strain. I think that Demme’s masterstroke is to cast serious actors in comedic roles and to direct them to play it more-or-less straight, thus creating what is essentially a mob spoof in dark romantic comedy clothing; you believe the characters, and thus the situation has a genuine suspense, and there are laughs along the way which seem to grow naturally from their behavior and lives, not from “gags” (in particular, I liked the inventive and remarkably efficient way that Modine’s busy FBI agent has of getting ready in the morning in record time). Pfeiffer is a gem as Angela, creating a character we can root for, and care about, while still laughing at the situation and the characters around her. Stockwell and Ruehl are the two actors who come closest to creating utter characatures, while still coming out unscathed; we pretty much believe these people – however silly they may become. Ultimately, this is a film about becoming your own person, going against the grain, and finding happiness in the face of adversity, and as such it succeeds immensely.

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