Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When you first saw the title of this review, you probably were thinking of the reality television show starring a rather loud and crass, yet rather successful Chef Ramsey. Well, if that’s what you expected, this is not the review you’re looking for. This is actually a review of an independent film named after the location in which it takes place – Hell’s Kitchen, New York City.
Hell’s Kitchen begins with a botched robbery that changes the lives of all involved forever. It was all arranged – Patty, Johnny and Hayden would enter the drug dealer’s office and rob him while Gloria (Johnny’s girlfriend and Hayden’s sister) and Stevey (Johnny’s brother) waited in the car. Guns would be pointed, money would be taken, the three would leave the way they came and escape in the car. But no one was expecting that the dealer would be crazy enough to pull a gun and start firing at the sight of three armed men. Johnny is the first to go down, a victim of the dealer’s first shots. Panicking, Patty accidentally shoots Hayden while trying to take down the drug dealer. When it’s all over, Johnny is unconscious, Hayden and the drug dealer are dead and panicky Patty is left to his own resources. He tells Gloria and Stevey that Johnny shot Hayden and that Johnny and Hayden are dead. Then, Patty drives the distraught Gloria and Stevey away from the scene.
Fast forward five years and we discover that Johnny is very much alive and completing a jail sentence. His first day of freedom is a bittersweet one. Johnny discovers that his mother is dead and his brother has disappeared. His former girlfriend, still believing that Johnny killed her brother, has vowed revenge against him. Apparently, while Johnny was in jail, Patty has taken over as Gloria’s boyfriend, but neglected to tell her the truth. Consumed by guilt over what happened five years ago, Patty offers Johnny money, a job, anything for forgiveness.
Johnny is given a job and a place to stay by stable owner Lou Riley. Learning that Lou Riley is a former boxing champion, and having some experience boxing in prison matches, Johnny begs Lou to become his boxing coach. Though Lou warns Johnny against the world of prize fighting, Johnny is convinced that this is the only way he can find freedom from his past. Unfortunately, Johnny is about to discover that the past is something you can’t always walk away from.
My chief reason for viewing this film was that it starred Angelina Jolie. Having seen her acting in independent film before (Foxfire), I was anxious to see how she performed in this film. I anticipated much angst and tears and was well-rewarded. It would seem that angst-filled, haunted characters are what Angelina Jolie does best. Whether this is a reflection on her actual life or just plain terrific acting, Jolie is definitely the Queen of Angst. Her portrayal of Gloria McNeary, a young woman who is suffering on so many levels – her brother was killed in a botched robbery, her ex-boyfriend has just been released from prison and she believes he is her brother’s killer, her mother is a drug addict and her boyfriend’s behavior has been erratic ever since the release of her ex – is incredibly emotional. The pain emanating off of Jolie is palpable – a living and tangible thing that one could see, feel and hear throughout her performance.
Mekhi Phifer of ER fame portrays Johnny Miles, a double-crossed former criminal trying to change his life for the better. Phifer’s character goes through a cycle of happiness, disbelief, anger, hopefulness…Johnny’s life is a virtual rollercoaster. Phifer’s portrayal of Johnny endears him to the viewer. Even when we know that he is making a bad decision, we can’t help but root for him to come out on top.
Rosanna Arquette’s portrayal of Gloria’s mother, Liz McNeary, is somewhat painful to watch. I must admit that I have never been a fan of her acting. However, there are some moments where her performance shines. Perhaps my dislike of Rosanna Arquette’s acting in the past has made her character more loathsome. I suppose this is a good thing…maybe.
I had never seen Johnny Whitworth act before and I have mixed emotions about his portrayal of Patty. His work in the early parts of the movie is average. As the movie progresses and the guilt becomes too much to bear, Whitworth begins to shine, showing viewers a full range of emotion.
Now, to be perfectly honest, Hunts Point is not the best of the independent films I’ve viewed in the past. The writing left something to be desired as did some of the New York accents. Some of the acting was rather stilted, though I thought the main characters did a pretty decent job. It’s unfortunate that the writing was lacking because, ultimately, it had an effect on the acting. You can’t really act out a poignant scene and expect it to go over well when the lines are…well, just plain bland and hard to deliver with any poignancy. On a positive note, the music selected for this film was absolutely perfect in its haunting quality. Each scene gained something thanks to the soundtrack.
Another major gripe I had with this movie was the fact that, as we got closer to the end, things seemed to be rushed. It seemed like things jumped around too fast. It was as if the powers that be decided that the movie was starting to run too long and they decided to just jump to the climactic scene and get it over and done with already. There was definitely something missing there.
Final gripe – that damn kid that Johnny takes under his wing! He was a terrible actor – completely unbelievable in the role. Couldn’t you have found a better child actor for the job?! Yeesh! You almost wish that Johnny would drop him like a bad habit, abandoning him to the crack dealers and junkies he saved the kid from.
Is Hunts Point the best movie ever? No. Is it even what I would consider to be a great movie? Not exactly. Is it worth watching? For the movie it could have been, I believe so. There are some terrific acting moments to be found in Hunts Point and there is a storyline you can get into. But if you’re expecting movie genius, Hunts Point is definitely not the movie for you.