Friday, September 14, 2018

Blue Collar

Based on an article by Sidney A. Glass, Blue Collar is the story of a three men who decide to rob a safe at a union headquarters building as a way to deal with the mistreatment they receive from their bosses as well as those working for the union. Directed by Paul Schrader and screenplay by Paul and Leonard Schrader, the film is a study of three men who deal with money issues as well as the fact that they’re not being treated fairly where they make a chilling discovery of what is going on at the union. Starring Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, and Yaphet Kotto. Blue Collar is a witty yet compelling film from Paul Schrader.

Set in Detroit, the film revolves around three men who work at an auto plant in the city as they struggle to get by as they feel mistreated by their foreman while their union representative doesn’t listen to their case prompting them to steal from the main office. It’s a film that play into the sense of indifference that blue collar workers are dealing with as they would struggle with finances as two of them have families to take care of. The film’s screenplay by Paul and Leonard Schrader follow the lives of two African-American workers in Zeke Brown (Richard Pryor) and Smokey James (Yaphet Kotto) and a Polish-American in Jerry Bartowski (Harvey Keitel) as they all work in the auto plant with many others in Detroit. Like everyone else, they work hard all day and go to the bar at night to relax and then return home.

Still, there are some problems at the plant as Zeke’s locker has been busted and has to open the locker through a hole which has damaged his pinky finger. Smokey owes money to a loan shark while Jerry has to get money for his daughter’s braces and Zeke finds himself in trouble with the IRS as they decide to rob a nearby union headquarters believing there is money. Yet, what they would find instead would impact so much more during the film’s second half as it play into what they found relating to criminal activities within the union. Notably in the third act as the three men find themselves to be big targets as it would involve blackmail and other dark ideas.

Paul Schrader’s direction is straightforward in terms of the compositions he creates as well as the fact that he shoots the film on location in Detroit where many cars are built. While there are some wide shots in Schrader’s direction, much of his approach to the compositions involve medium shots and close-ups while he play into the atmosphere of not just the auto plant but also the nearby bar and the homes of the three characters. Schrader’s direction also play into the atmosphere of the auto plant where it’s grimy and on-going as there’s a character in the film who is unable to get a cold drink from a vending machine which still hasn’t been fixed. Schrader also play into the struggles that these three men endure while they would have the time to relax and party but the idea of becoming rich starts to fade during the third act. 

Even as the Zeke, Jerry, and Smokey were approached by a federal agent in John Burrows (Cliff DeYoung) who believes something is up but they don’t want to become rats and get everyone else in trouble. Still, the dramatic stakes that occur in the third act in a couple of intense key sequences showcase a couple of the protagonists deal with something dangerous. Even as these events would force the protagonists to make uneasy decision that becomes more about themselves than everyone else. Overall, Schrader crafts a gripping yet engaging film about three auto plant workers trying to stick it to their bosses.

Cinematographer Bobby Byrne does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it is straightforward for many of the exterior scenes while using some stylish and low-key lighting for some of the exteriors and interior scenes set at night. Editor Tom Rolf does terrific work with the editing as it is straightforward while featuring some rhythmic cuts for some of the film’s humor and suspense. Production designer Lawrence G. Paull and set decorator Peg Cummings do fantastic work with the look of the homes of the characters as well as the bar they go to after work.

The sound work of Willie D. Burton, Marvin Lewis, and Winfred Tennison is superb for the way the auto plant sounds with its machines and atmosphere as well as the scenes at the bar. The film’s music by Jack Nitzsche is brilliant as it’s a mainly a mixture of blues, rock, rhythm and blues, and country with additional contributions from Ry Cooder who provides a soundtrack of music including pieces from Lynyrd Skynyrd, Howlin’ Wolf, Ike & Tina Turner, David Willis, Byron Berline and Sundance, and Captain Beefheart.

The casting by Vic Ramos is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Jimmy Martinez as a friend of Smokey in Hernandez who tried to help Smokey with their issues, Leonard Gaines as an IRS official who meets with Zeke, Chip Fields as Zeke’s wife Caroline, Lucy Saroyan as Jerry’s wife Arlene, Boran Silver as the auto plant foreman that everyone calls Dogshit Miller, and Ed Begley Jr. as an auto plant worker in Bobby Joe who shares the frustrations of his fellow co-workers. Lane Smith is superb as Clarence Hill as a union representative who tries to help out the workers yet is really involved in other activities as he is someone that Zeke dislikes. Cliff DeYoung is terrific as John Burrows as a federal agent who is trying to get information from the workers with claims he wants to protect them when is really someone that wants them to snitch on their fellow workers.

Harry Bellaver is fantastic as union leader Eddie Johnson who listens to Zeke’s complaints while being aware that there is this air of corruption happening yet is also a man that is cynical about the ways of the world. Yaphet Kotto is incredible as Smokey James as a maintenance man at the auto shop who is suspicious of what is going on as he needs the money to pay off debts while trying to maintain the idea that everyone has to work together to make things happen. Harvey Keitel is marvelous as Jerry Bartowski as a Polish-American auto worker who is the last to join on the scheme due to his daughter’s need for braces on her teeth as he deals with the dangers of the aftermath of the scheme prompting him to make an uneasy decision. Finally, there’s Richard Pryor in a phenomenal performance as Zeke Brown as an auto worker who is frustrated with management’s indifference towards everyone as he would take charge of the scheme to rob from the local office only to discover something bigger as it would later cause all sorts of conflicts for himself as he would make an uneasy decision that would help his family.

Blue Collar is a sensational film from Paul Schrader that features great performances from Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, and Yaphet Kotto. Along with its study of working class environments and corruption within those trying to help the common man, it’s a film that play into three men wanting to stick it to their bosses only to get way over their head into a world that is far more complicated and troubling. In the end, Blue Collar is a phenomenal film from Paul Schrader.

Paul Schrader Films: HardcoreAmerican Gigolo - Cat People (1982 film) - (Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters) – (Light of Day) – (Patty Hearst) – (The Comfort of Strangers) – (Light Sleeper) – (Witch Hunt) – (Touch) – Affliction – (Forever Mine) – (Auto Focus) – (Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist) – (The Walker) – (Adam Resurrected) – (The Canyons) – Dying of the Light – (Dog Eat Dog) – First Reformed - (The Card Counter)

© thevoid99 2018


Alex Withrow said...

Another great Schrader film. I love this movie’s arc of dreaming to reality, as you mentioned. That blue collar life sets in, and the film beautifully captures how everyone deals with that differently. Great review.

thevoid99 said...

@Alex-It is a great film though I read that Schrader wasn't totally fond of how it turned out. Still, I think it's a great debut film and I love how it ended. I hope to do more Schrader in the future.