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city hall

City Hall

Starring Al Pacino, John Cusack, Bridget Fonda, Danny Aiello and Martin Landau
Screenplay by Ken Lipper and Paul Schrader & Nicholas Pileggi
Directed by Harold Becker

I think we've all played the game as children; you gather as many dominoes as you can get your hands on and lay them out, standing them on their ends in as intricate a pattern as you can imagine. In your head you can image what a glorious cacophony of clattering dominoes you will see as they fall and knock each other over. But almost always, you brush against a single domino somewhere in the middle, and everything comes crashing down in all directions.

Which is, in a symbolic sort of way, what City Hall is all about. It is about doing favors, and later collecting the IOU's that have accumulated, to accomplish whatever needs doing. It is about the favors asked for with unspoken words. It is about politicians doing the dirty deeds politics requires; the bad paving the way for the good.

City Hall is about a cop who sees a bust go bad; the perp let off on probation. It is about the cop who continues to pursue the bust two years on, seeking to ferret out the corrupt ones who let the scum back on the street. It is about how the confrontation between the cop and the perp leads to the death of both, and that of a six year old child. And all the ramifications that follow that rock the political house that Mayor John Pappas (Al Pacino) has built. City Hall begins with the killing of a cop, a thug, and an innocent passerby. What begins as damage control for Deputy Mayor Kevin Calhoun (John Cusack) -- whose bullet killed the kid? -- quickly turns into a mystery.The dead cop is framed; a lawyer (Bridget Fonda) defends his honor. She and Cusack unravel the mystery of who would want to defame a hero and why. It is a mystery whose solution will destroy his world.

Written by Ken Lipper and Paul Schrader & Nicholas Pileggi and two time Academy Award winner, Bo Goldman, City Hall is, at times, a terrifically scripted film. Virtually all of the characters are written with an eye for *character*. The quirks are there -- Danny Aiello's love for Rodgers and Hammerstein is shared by a waiter with whom he sings harmony. All the politicos learning key Yiddish phrases from [David Paymer] and Cusak's inability to pick up the lingo.

Problem is, delightful supporting characters are not enough when the centerpiece of the film is not a compelling character to watch. John Cusack isn't. He plods his way through the mystery, accompanied at times by Bridget Fonda, in a part that just isn't there. T'ain't her fault. There's just no idea what to do with her character. Which is the too many cooks school of script writing.

Pacino's constant quoting of great politicos of history builds his character. He is aware of the past -- those who do not know the past are doomed to repeat it -- yet knowledge is not protection behind the walls of City Hall. Knowledge brings
power. Knowledge can bring death. It is a good performance to watch, specifically noting the eulogy given at the funeral of the boy. What begins as a Mayoral-style delivery transforms itself into a gospel preach-fest. It may be over the top to some, but it was a great thing to watch.

City Hall was just OK. It's not a bad way to kill two hours, but the mystery when solved, sort of deflates like an old baloon. All hollow at the center.

It costs Eight Dollars to see a first run movie here in New York City. If Cranky could set his own price for City Hall, he would pay....


Wait for the pay per view. Or knock off a buck and wait for the rental.

The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.