16 October 2009

Chicago Overcoat

This movie was a big favorite at the Chicago International Film Festival, largely because it was made here with a local crew and lots of local cast members, and written, directed, and produced by graduates of Columbia College, which is right downtown. Plus, it's a gangster movie, and Chicagoans are perversely proud of the city's violent heritage.

The movie turns on some pretty familiar situations: a retired hitman puts himself back into action to earn the cash he needs to make things right with his family and buy himself a more interesting retirement. At the same time, a lonely honest member of the Chicago police force sees an opportunity to redeem his sad career by connecting a string of 20-year-old murders with a couple of newer ones. In the process, he convinces his new, young partner to adopt his old-fashioned methods.

The movie is told in voice-over from the hitman's point of view. This is consistent with some noir traditions, but by the end of the movie I was finding the voiceover inconsistent with the hitman's character. He just didn't seem like an introspective guy--I couldn't fathom who he was talking to or why he was telling his story.

Also, I enjoyed the Chicago settings a lot less than I thought I would. Seeing a movie like Batman Begins in recognizable Chicago settings is one thing. That movie is obviously a fantasy. Chicago Overcoat takes place here and now, and it was jarring and unpleasant (rather than exciting) to experience for a while its vision of an an ongoing violent underworld in our own neighborhoods, facilitated by viciously corrupt police and elected officials. An alderman is murdered in his own office. A shootout transpires in a rooftop parking lot. Ick!

Maybe as I get older violent movies come to seem more real to me and less like cartoons. In any case, Chicago Overcoat is an admirable accomplishment for a group of recent film school graduates, but I wasn't a big fan.

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