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City of Hope is a portrait of a typical middle-sized American city of the present day. The crux of the story is an old apartment block which stands in the way of a major commercial development. Joe Rinaldi is the building contractor who owns the buildings, and is being pressured to torch them to permit the development to occur. His estranged son, Nick, soon becomes a pawn in the power politics of the city. Corrupt Mayor Baci and policeman O'Brien are determined to push the development, while idealistic city councilman Wynn soon finds himself torn between what he knows is right and what his black constituents want. Written by
John Sayles knows how to write a movie. More than that, however, Sayles knows how to compose such a fantastic ending to a movie. He can weave concepts and ideas from scene to scene and from character to character showing us all the different shades of the spectrum while still maintaining a mostly unbiased view of politics and corruption. In Sayles' City of Hope, this is no different, and I am not surprised that as I peruse through it's film page that less then 2,000 people have viewed this cinematic genius at work. Throughout the film, we are introduced to an easy count of 30 characters, who we can understand and compare, whether they're on screen for one hour or one minute. Vincent Spano and Joe Morton hold the most ground and screen time while never letting the viewer down on their performance. While Tony Lo Bianco and John Sayles are nothing short of brilliant in their roles as well. But above them all, David Straithairn subtly steals the show with one helluva performance that we never take full notice of until the incredible ending.
I love how Sayles gave himself and Kevin Tighe the ugliest characters in the film (after seeing him do so well in Sayles earlier masterpiece, Matewan). All I can say is that this film is absolutely worth watching. It reminds us (as it reminded me) how badly society needs help and how problems don't go away until it is finally realized that such problems exist. The separation between social classes is apparent and it is also the major issue that Sayles weaves in and out of most of his character motives. Racial slurs, bigotry, prejudice, and politics are all where Sayles points the blame in this film.
And by the end, Sayles has us wanting more as we see the lowest and most unnoticed character in the entire film shout for help and is totally unheard. 10/10
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