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Little Odessa
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Reviews & Ratings for
Little Odessa More at IMDbPro »

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17 out of 22 people found the following review useful:

A superior drama, and a stunning debut for director James Gray.

Author: Melville-7 from New York City
7 July 2000

This is without a doubt the best debut by a filmmaker in the last decade. James Gray has directed with a sure hand, exerting amazing control over a wide variety of performers and flawlessly maintaining a haunting and menacing mood in his tale of crime and punishment among Russian immigrants in Brooklyn. Vanessa Redgrave is superb, as usual, and Maxmillian Schell has been kept from the unrestrained emotionalism to which he is prone (see JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG), so that he gives one of his very best performances in years. As for Edward Furlong and Tim Roth, both of whom can be very good or very bad, lets just say they haven't been this good before or since. Gray's command over such aspects of the film as pacing and visual style is impressive. The whole thing builds to a stunning climax.

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11 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Raw, naked, haunting & cold.

Author: Martin-165
23 February 2000

I saw this movie at a quite low age, I consider it one of the films that evoked my passion for this art form. This film is very bare, very raw yet somehow harmonious, as well. The violence is very well depicted, in a very cold & frightful way. This is a film without any greater hope, without any greater optimism of our future. A rapid & haunting way of showing the true face and consequences of brutal violence. Intensively and artistically this film displays a chaotic & desperate family, a destiny very honest and very haunting. Cinematography is stunning, as is the environment, which very well defines the fundamental characteristics of this film, cold, naked, intense & raw. Great debut by the very promising James Gray.

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11 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

Where is James Gray now?

Author: RJC-4 from USA
19 June 2000

A stunning debut by this young writer-director -- Dostoyevskian themes, an exact sense of place, and a lyricism touched by few of his peers. And now six years' wait!

While most U.S. indie filmmakers spent the 1990s studiously copying Tarantino, Gray in this overlooked gem created something entirely different: a character study of tragedy among the unhip and uncool. Torn by illness and the return of a prodigal son, a Russian immigrant family in New York tries to outlast the omens promising its destruction. The film owes something to Coppola, but you might feel the presence of Bergman, too. Unsentimental, unsparing, with brilliant performances by the principal cast. A must see.

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4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Ice Returns To Little Odessa

Author: ArchAngel Michael from Sword Of The Protector
20 September 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Spoilers Ahead:

Roth's best performance even better than Rob Roy. He returns to do some hit-man work here returning to his life existentially and bringing nothing but death and destruction. His little brother adores and idolizes him, even after seeing him kill a man and burn him up in an incinerator. He secrets a gun in his drawer, a sign of his wish to become like Roth which gets him quite a beating from the abusive father played brilliantly by Schell. There are no heroes here; the movie is black as pitch. The mother, played by Redgrave, is dying of an inoperable brain tumor. The movie follows Roth's return, reconnecting with little brother and girlfriend. The beatings visited upon Furlong, his little brother, prompt violent retaliation by Roth upon his father building to his near execution out in a winter's field. The movie intimates that the father's brutality produced the monster Roth and his apprentice in training Furlong. It is not a mystery how brutalized youths seek existential compensation for their feelings of deep helplessness and victimization, in youth, by developing into true monsters. They feed upon the power of destroying others for money that fills that chasm inside of themselves.

I refer readers to the excellent movie Mad Dog Coll that also depicts his humiliation in childhood with his developing into a sadistic, laughing ghoul in adulthood. I love this movie but it is one painful viewing. The acting is excellent and it is relentless and unyielding. Poor Furlong is drawn into Roth's world with the realistic consequences ensuing. The movie's power is really in its delving into the etiology of existential monsters who destroy others for the feeling of power that they feed upon. Roth is ice here, even towards his little brother there are acts of kindness but no verbal or physical affection. His sex with his girlfriend is also violent and devoid of affection. The scene that contains the essence of the movie is when an old associate spots Roth on the Boardwalk. Roth calmly follows him and as the man is about to drop a dime on him, walks up and shoots him in the head. The action is as automatic and dispassionate as if we were opening our car door. The man has killed so many people that there is no affective content to any of his violence; it is completely robotic.

Even Roth's protection of Furlong is never followed by affection towards him, when he confronts Schell it is always vicarious revenge. He is angry about his mistreatment of Furlong because he suffered the same; he often says this as he is pushing or hitting Schell. When Furlong is killed, Roth simply bags him up and takes him to the incinerator. There is no apparent sorrow, he is a machine. If someone asked me why I love this movie it is because it shows you that children who are treated cruelly grow up to be monsters. The film is a great existential biography of a living iceberg who can never kill enough people to remove that deep feeling of powerlessness he suffered as a bruised and battered child. Parents, this movie is not for children. It is dark as midnight and features one of the coldest monsters ever depicted on film. That said, if you would like to understand the psychological pathology of the sociopath there is not a better movie to watch. The acting is excellent, especially Roth, Schell and Redgrave. Dark As Night But An Excellent Movie.

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4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Savage and sad....

Author: Tim Kidner ( from Salisbury, United Kingdom
3 January 2012

I'm a long time fan of Tim Roth, who doesn't do nearly as much as I'd like him to, these days. The other British stalwart in this, the equally excellent Vanessa Redgrave was another point of interest for me.

There's a real brutal efficiency to this film that makes it unlikeable but also demands respect and our attention. Roth is the roving assassin who is forced to do his next job in his old neighbourhood and that means getting reacquainted with his family: dying Mum (Redgrave), hateful and abusive Father (Maximilian Spiel), as well as impressionable younger brother (Edward Furlong). 24 year old débutant director James Gray comes up with - and scripts - a surprisingly mature piece of crime cinema that is both poignant, moving and shocking.

To my mind, the violence should rate the film at 18, not 15; the cold- blooded unfeeling of Roth's callous and unflinching "jobs" don't even give us time for any bad taste to form in our mouths. I can see that some would find this a barrier to their enjoyment in what is mostly a character- driven drama of some depth. The winter-set scenes of back street Brooklyn are chillingly authentic and bleak and these help remind us of the family's Russian roots. The father, a devout Jew, who's also having an affair often speaks Russian still, hanging to his identity the best he can, in an alienating, changing and disintegrating world.

There are also some tender moments between assassin son and brain-tumour suffering mother, and of him lovemaking with his girlfriend, who wants to try to understand him and his motives. His younger brother tries to keep his own feet on the ground, whilst his sibling gradually but surely steals his innocence.

Yes, it is sad - and savage but strangely rewarding, too.

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5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

The prodigal son returns.

Author: lastliberal from United States
9 November 2008

Writer/director James Gray's (We Own the Night) first film was critically acclaimed for it's cinematography and for performances by Vanessa Redgrave and Maximilian Schell. It is not an action film, even though the main character is a hit-man. It is a drama about family and shame.

Mr. Orange, Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, The Incredible Hulk) plays a son who has been disowned for bringing shame on the family by his behavior. He returns to Brighton Beach to do a job, and reunites with his family as his mother lays dying. He also reunited with Moira Kelly, much to the delight of movie viewers.

About the only one happy to see him was his younger brother Rueban, played by Edward Furlong (Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Pecker). Well, mom was happy, but moms are always happy no matter how bad their children are - trust me on that.

Violence was at a minimum for a Russian Mafia/hit-man picture, and the focus was on the family. Maximilian Schell was excellent as the father that made piece just for a moment to allow Redgrave to see her son.

Gray's first film has nuance and subtlety not often seen in a film featuring the mafia.

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7 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

great for movie fans, but not for the popcorn-munching masses.

Author: bampf from dublin, ireland
24 April 2003

this film totally transcends its derivative storyline and machismo-charged genre. avoiding predictable characterisation (which some of the previous commentators seem to desire)and melodrama, the film may seem (and is at least visually) cold, but its warmth is built through nuance, not cliche. Great soundtrack too, with Arvo Part.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Another intense performance by Roth

Author: tieman64 from United Kingdom
5 March 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a review of "Little Odessa", "The Yards" and "We Own the Night", three crime dramas by director James Gray.

Released in 1994, "Little Odessa" stars Tim Roth as Joshua Shapira, a volatile criminal who has been exiled by his family. A "prodigal son returns" narrative, the film watches as Roth returns to his family home. Though his relatives still distrust him, Joshua is idolised by his younger brother, little Reuben Shapira (Edward Furlong). The film ends, as most "prodigal son" tales do, with Reuben dying, paying for his brother's sins.

"Little Odessa" was Gray's debut. It's a very good drama, well acted by the always electric Tim Roth, but the film's ethnic details are unconvincing and Gray falters in his final act with an obvious, overblown sequence in which little Reuben is accidentally gunned down.

Gray followed "Odessa" up with "The Yards" (2000), a crime drama set in the commuter rail yards of New York City. The film's structure is similar to "Odessa", and sees Mark Wahlberg playing an ex-convict who returns home after a short stint in prison. Wahlberg attempts to stay clean, to keep his nose out of crime, but is drawn back into the criminal underworld by a friend played by Joaquin Phoenix. The film retains the "brotherhood dynamics" of "Odessa", Wahlberg playing the "good son" who eventually turns on his suffocating sibling. Once again the film ends with a ridiculously over-the-top death sequence.

While "The Yards" has a certain, smothering pretentiousness about it, convinced about its own importance (it's lit like Rembrandt, street fights are filmed like Visconti's "Rocco and His Brothers" and it's reaching for the tone of Coppola's "The Godfather"), Gray nevertheless cooks up some wonderful strokes, like a beautifully sensitive welcome-home party, a wordless assassination attempt and a fine, aching performance by Wahlberg. It's a great mixed bag.

Gray then directed "We Own The Night", arguably his best crime flick. The "good brother/bad brother" motif returns, this time with Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix playing a pair of brothers on either side of the law. Phoenix's a perpetually high playboy who owns a nightclub frequented by drug-runners and mafia types, and Wahlberg's a straight-arrow cop trying to keep the streets clean. When the mafia unleashes an assassination campaign on local cops, Phoenix switches allegiances, goes undercover and attempts to take down the mob. There are touches of "Donnie Brasco", "Rush", "Point Break", "Serpico", "State of Grace", "Infernal Affairs" and every other "undercover cop" movie you can think of, but the film is beautifully lit, is atypically straight-faced and features a superb, rain-soaked car chase.

Some have suggested that Gray's trilogy should be celebrated for working in a "classical", almost conventionally Greek mould. That his conventionality suggests that all his characters are at the mercy of already in place contours, their fates forgone. Mostly, though, Gray's trilogy highlights the ways in which contemporary artists have struggled to conceive of a response to postmodernism.

The crime movies of, say, Tarantino and Scorsese, are unashamedly postmodern, toying with and regurgitating clichés from 1930s Warner machine gun operas and MGM crime flicks. They aren't about "crime", so much as they're pastiche jobs, jazzed up films about crime films. As a response to this aesthetic, artists who deem themselves "serious", who rightfully ask "what exactly comes next?", tend to look backwards at what came before, as though post-war modernism, by virtue of being modernism, is intrinsically "the solution". This leads to classically shot and written but wholly regressive fare like Gray's trilogy, which essentially unscrambles the world's Scorseses and Tarantinos and puts you right back in the 1940s, minus the irony and flippancy.

But you can't go backwards in this way; your audience will always be ten steps ahead and there will always be a huge chasm between your solemnity and the tired insights your film delivers. This is why true progressive works in the genre, for example fare like "The Wire", which actively attempts a cognitive mapping of both global capitalism and crime, are neither modernist or postmodern, whilst possessing the vital traits of both. Philosophers have alternatively coined this new movement "neoprimitivism", "pseudomodernism", "participatism", "post-post modernism", but the one that seems to be sticking is "new modernism".

Whatever you call it, this hypothetical movement rejects postmodern nihilism (nothing matters, there is no "truth", it's just a film), actively tries to convey the complexities of our world, and covertly believes that it is possible and necessary for individuals to make value judgements, take stands, approach objectivity, and back facts up. It is modernist in its desires to "understand", "teach", "decipher" and "make better" the world, and in its emphasis on culture, society, technology and politics. The movement doesn't reject postmodernism, but co-opts its tropes and bends them to suit its aim, questioning agency, subjectivity and attempting to piece together the fragments and multiple perspectives that typify complex systems. In short, truly relevant crime films simultaneously simulate our contemporary environment of junk, noise, commerce and static, before proceeding to decode, organise and target roots. As William Gibson said way back in the 1980s, future great artist will function like search engines, mapping and making sense of the detritus. Gray goes backwards to when there was less noise.

7.9/10 - Worth one viewing.

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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Best I've seen Roth do

Author: smatysia ( from Houston
9 March 2007

I enjoyed the movie. Tim Roth, who is apparently British, sounded to me (a Texan) as a perfect second-generation Russian Jew. He was so coldly efficient in this character that I did not even recognize him as the hapless robber in Pulp Fiction. Kudos also to Moira Kelly, Edward Furlong, and Maximilian Schell. Good direction and photography. The use of the Russian choral music throughout set the mood on medium-creepy, even when that was the only clue. I've never been to Brighton Beach, or even Brooklyn, but the film really brought home the gritty reality of that immigrant community. (I really just mean the day-to-day atmosphere of the place, not the mobster story plastered on it.) Worth checking out if you don't mind a slower, more cerebral sort of hit man movie.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

We'll wait 10 seconds and see if God saves you

Author: OJT from Norway
18 August 2013

Little Odessa, also release under the title "Contract killer" is a very effectively and realistically told mobster movie, from the Russian community. It's a take on the prodigal son, here as a cold contract killer. A great watch for connoisseurs of films, and mobster film in particular.

The movie stands out for great acting, directing and photography, being James Gray directorial debut. Music is excellent as well. The actors are making this a great watch. The whole film is stuffed with fabulous acting. Tim Roth and Edward Furlong is both fabulous as the brothers, as Vanessa Redgrave and Maximillian Schell is as the mother and the abusive father. I think this is some of the best I've seen from them all.

The film starts up with the contract killer, being the older brother Joshua Shapira coming back to his hometown of Brooklyn after being away for years, to do a contract job. He fled town after committing a killing, which obviously is not forgotten. He meets his younger brother, Reuben, which tells him that their mother is terminally ill with brain tumor. Joshua wants to see the mother, but are not welcomed by the father, being a danger to the whole family since wanted by the mobsters.

It's bleak, cold, gritty, effective and what I believe very realistic told. I was immediately sucked into the story, which is following the younger brother more than the older hit-man. it's no action movie, but a mobster movie told in the way we've seen many times. This does not stand back from these. The film builds slowly up to great scenes.

It's powerful on emotions, far more than on the action. However the persons are quite cold, and so is the violence. And there isn't much hope to see in the dreary days of this family.

The quote "We'll wait 10 seconds and see if God saves you" is said by Tim Roth's character before he does a killing. I would regard this is a must-see for mob film lovers, and a classic in the genre. I would likewise recommend the brilliant and effective "Eastern promises" by David Cronenberg, telling a story from the Russian mafia in Great Britain.

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