City of Hope
Set in a fictional, big New Jersey town where everyone is connected by greed, dishonesty, or corruption, this film's 36 characters are all on one side of the law or the other, but none can give us much to choose from. Tied to a wheel of psychic torture, they spin, with no way to be free.
Sayles follows them as they run into each other, make deals, tell lies, and compromise. The idealists are shattered when clout, bribery, and perjury win. The father of the central character (Lo Bianco), a local contractor, gives his son Nick (Spano) a soft union job; it's too much for Nick, who can't take being paid to do nothing. "You don't have to sit around!" his father shouts. "I can arrange for you to have more responsibility."
Nick wants to live in a world with better rules; instead, he drifts, even into a romance with Angela (Williams), once married to a cop who beat her. We meet him and two other cops; one worries about his partner's frightening temper. We meet a small-time crook who runs an auto repair shop (Sayles), and a black alderman (Morton) who wants to protect a housing development against developers who want to exploit urban renewal.
Surprisingly, Sayles makes clear who each person is, how each relates to the others, and why they matter. A bit like "Slacker," this movie's camera follows one character after another, while the plot advances with urgency, showing that wherever we look, we'll find more wickedness and greed.
With complete assurance, Sayles uses a large canvas in a complex story, and the viewer is drawn in. Complex emotions arise as Nick and Angela, whose love requires idealism, know that, in their city, it's unlikely to survive. We also feel both for Nick and his father, a man who wants to do the right thing, but isn't strong enough.
An alderman (Morton), a reformer who can't delegate anything, is trapped between powerful whites and black militants; he turns to a retired black mayor of a nearby town (Aranha), who tells about hard lessons that destroyed his idealism. "City of Hope" is angry, and its echoes of despair come from the front pages of every day's newspaper. Can a good person prevail in a corrupt system? In the short run, power is stronger than right. But the notion of a long run, of course, keeps hope alive.
Vincent Spano, Joe Morton, Tony Lo Bianco, Barbara Williams, Angela Bassett, David Stratha
New Jersey, corruption, Sayles
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