Saturday, November 04, 2017
Written and directed by James Gray, Little Odessa is the story of a hitman who returns home to his Russian-immigrant family in New York City as he copes with having to deal with them as he is only in the city to do a job. The film is a study of a man struggling to be there for the family that is estranged from him but also deal with his role in the world of crime. Starring Tim Roth, Edward Furlong, Moira Kelly, Maximilian Schell, and Vanessa Redgrave. Little Odessa is a gripping yet somber film from James Gray.
Set in Brooklyn, the film revolves around a Jewish-Russian hitman who is given a job to go to Brooklyn to kill a man that is an enemy to the mob where he finds himself having to meet up with his family including his younger brother and ailing mother. It is really a study of a man trying to cope with the family he’s estranged from as he also struggles with wanting to reconcile with them despite the fact that there’s a lot of issues. James Gray’s screenplay follows Joshua Shapira (Tim Roth) as a hitman that has created a life that has him killing people for money as well as working for the Mafia. Learning about a man who has been giving away information against the Mafia, Joshua learns he has to go to Brooklyn to find that man and kill him as he gather up a few old friends to help him as he also checks on his family as his father Arkady (Maximilian Schell) wants nothing to do with him.
Especially as he doesn’t want his youngest son Reuben (Edward Furlong) to make contact but Reuben is interesting in seeing Joshua as the two would hang out together as well as rekindling a relationship with a former girlfriend in Alla (Moira Kelly). Even though Joshua is eager to get out of Brooklyn and get the job done, he also has to deal with the fact that his mother Irina (Vanessa Redgrave) is dying as he wants to see her forcing himself to meet with his father and call a truce for the sake of Irina. Still, Joshua has a job to do as he starts to ponder about leaving behind this life of crime or continue on this dark path of chaos.
Gray’s direction does have element of style yet it is rooted in the location as much of the film is shot in Brooklyn and other parts of New York City. Yet, Gray would avoid many of the city’s landmarks in favor of grounding it into locations that play into this community where everyone kind of knows each other as well as be diverse no matter how problematic it can be. Though there is an intimacy in Gray’s approach to close-ups and medium shots that includes a lavish dinner party at a restaurant for Arkady’s mother on her 80th birthday. Gray would use some unique wide shots to capture the scope of a location as well as create some gorgeous compositions such as a conversation between Joshua and Alla shot from afar. There is also a scene in the film in which Reuben would witness what Joshua would do as it’s shown in a wide shot as Gray would shoot Reuben in a close-up.
Gray would also showcase the sense of conflict from within as it relates to Joshua in his lone meeting with his mother as it show Joshua’s desire to want to be there for his family but still has to deal with the world of crime. The film’s third act relates to Arkady’s reasons for wanting to disconnect with Joshua as well as why he wants Reuben to stay away from him as he would have a confrontation with his eldest son that would unfortunately lead to the sins of both father and son. Overall, Gray creates a compelling yet riveting film about a hitman returning home for an assignment and to meet with his estranged family.
Cinematographer Tom Richmond does excellent work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of natural lighting for the daytime exterior scenes as well as some stylish lighting and moods for some of the scenes set at night. Editor Dorian Harris does terrific work with the editing as it is stylized for its usage of jump-cuts and fade-outs to play into the drama and suspense. Production designer Kevin Thompson, with set decorator Charles Ford and art director Judy Rhee, does fantastic work with the look of the home that Reuben lives with his parents as well as the restaurant where Arkady is having a party for his mother and the place where Joshua would meet a few of his lowly hoods.
Costume designer Michael Clancy does nice work with the costumes as it is mostly casual to play into the winter coats and hats that many of the characters wear. Sound editors Lewis Goldstein and John A. Larsen do superb work with the sound to play into the sound of gunfire as well as capture the natural atmosphere of the locations as well as the ambiance of the restaurant scene. The film’s music by Dana Sano is wonderful as it is largely a low-key orchestral score that emphasizes heavily on Russian choral music as it help play into the film’s Jewish-Russian location.
The casting by Douglas Aibel is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Mina Bern as Arkady’s mother, David Vadim as an old friend of Joshua in Sasha, Natalya Andreychenko as Arkady’s mistress Natasha, and Paul Guilfoyle as a local mob boss in Boris Volkoff whom Joshua despises. Maximilian Schell is excellent as Joshua and Reuben’s father Arkady as a man who is trying to protect Reuben from Joshua as well as deal with his mother’s illness as well as juggling an affair with a mistress whom he talks to about what he’s dealing with. Vanessa Redgrave is fantastic as Joshua and Reuben’s mother Irina as a woman who is dying from some brain disease as she deals with the severity of her illness as well as seeing Joshua for the first time as she asks him to be at his grandmother’s birthday party as a way to make amends with the family.
Moira Kelly is brilliant as Alla as a former girlfriend of Joshua who is surprised to see him as she isn’t sure about rekindling a relationship with him but also wonders if they could have a future. Edward Furlong is amazing as Reuben as a teenage boy who is surprised to see his older brother as he wonders why his father despises Joshua as well as deal with some dark realities including the world of crime which he isn’t sure he wants to be a part of. Finally, there’s Tim Roth in an incredible performance as Joshua Shapira as a hitman who takes an assignment that would force him to return home as he deals with not just his estranged family but also begin a relationship with his younger brother as well as the world of crime he’s in where he copes with the impact of his actions.
Little Odessa is a remarkable film from James Gray. Featuring a great cast, a compelling story on family and ambition, and gritty setting that play into the world of the Russian mob. The film is definitely a low-key crime drama that explores a man returning home but also deal with the world he’s in and why he is unable to escape it. In the end, Little Odessa is a marvelous film from James Gray.
James Gray Films: The Yards – We Own the Night – Two Lovers – The Immigrant (2013 film) - The Lost City of Z – (Ad Astra) - The Auteurs #67: James Gray
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