Cosmo Vitelli owns the Crazy Horse West, a strip joint in California. He's laconic, a Korean War vet, and a gambler. When we meet him, he's making his last payment on a gambling debt. Then, he promptly loses $23,000 playing poker at an illegal local casino. The guys he owes this time aren't so friendly, pressuring him for immediate payment. Then they suggest that he kill a Chinese bookie to wipe off the debt. Vitelli and the film move back and forth between the double-crossing, murderous insincerity of the gamblers and the friendships, sweetness, and even love among Vitelli, the dancers, a dancer's mother, and the club's singer, Mr. Sophistication. Written by
Now, teddy. Teddy. Everything takes work. We'll straighten it out. You know. You gotta work hard to be comfortable. Yeah, a lot of people kid themselves, you know. They-they know when they were born, they know where they're goin'... they know whether they're gonna go to heaven,whether they're gonna go to hell. They think they know that. They kid themselves. Right? But the only people... who are, you know, happy... are the people who are comfortable. That's right. Now, you take, uh, uh, carol, ...
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In many cases, the reality is enigmatic, and John Cassavetes is a genius to capture and exhibit that obscure sense of reality on celluloid. With deliberately rough camera work (containing lots of lens flares) and editing (not trimming out movements of the photographer's hands before and after actions), along with the crafted acting of Ben Gazzara, Cassavetes presents the obscure-hence-realistic underground gang world as no one else has. The camera movement and choreography of the murder scene is reminiscent of Godard--well calculated to appear to be not calculated. The scene is the only one accompanied by music; the entire film is inscrutably quiet.
The dragging story may be a part of his method, but it is a drawback to make the viewers lose their attentions. After Cosmo Vitelli (Gazzara) executes the killing, the plot focuses on the process he is going back to his ordinary life, but it is needlessly stretched out. Also, the scene of the confrontation against the gang members is a redundant second climax.
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