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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
In this movie, ambition overreaches result, and the usually clear-sighted John Sayles flounders. There are moments of brilliance, as when the camera turns sharply to pick up new threads in the sprawling interweave of city intrigue that composes the central theme. But the sprawl ultimately proves too unwieldy for even Sayles' considerable talent. I only wish he had succeeded. The backdoor machinery of city politics needs sensitive treatment of the kind Sayles can deliver. But the script falters and the characters seldom rise above uninteresting stereotype. If its true that too many cooks spoil the soup, it's also true that too many soups spoil the cook, no matter how versatile the latter. Here, director-producer-writer-actor Sayles simply raises more urban issues than he deals with effectively: police corruption, brutality, racism, homophobia, kick-backs, drugs, influence peddling, organized crime, with a symbolic love story thrown in - in short, the whole 9 yards that keeps cities operating. Unfortunately, the end result is a force field that pulls apart rather than brings together, making the whole effort appear pointless.
Too bad, because such unconventional scope requires unconventional methods of the type Sayles attempts. But I'm not sure it's possible to force such a life-sized tapestry into an ordinary two-hour time frame. Perhaps something on the order of a Godfather trilogy with a central focus on the Nicky character would accommodate the filmmaker's expansive vision. Trouble is, political mavericks and independents like Sayles seldom get the financing necessary for following through. Looks like he may be consigned to work the fringes in the brilliant and committed fashion of Matewan and Eight Men Out, for which there is nevertheless always an audience.
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