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Abel Ferrara is one of the most original and interesting directors in America movies. He is also one of the most uneven. The guy has made some garbage and some near masterpieces in his time, so you really have to judge each one of his movies on an individual basis. 'The Funeral' is an excellent movie, easily Ferrara's most overlooked effort, and one which doesn't deserve the obscurity it's been doomed to. It's almost as impressive as 'Bad Lieutenant' and 'The King Of New York', yet I very rarely hear it even mentioned. I really don't know why! The movie has one major stumbling block that the viewer must accept before they can begin to get on with watching. That is the casting of Christopher Walken ('The Dead Zone'), Chris Penn ('Reservoir Dogs') and Vincent Gallo ('Buffalo '66'). Three great actors sure, but playing blood brothers?! Also we see that the youngest brother Johnny (Gallo) is supposedly 22(!), and via flashback his two older siblings look only three, maybe four years older. This would make Ray (Walken) in his late twenties, which is absolutely ludicrous. However, if you can put this all to one side and not let it worry you then you will be pleasantly surprised. Some viewers complain that the movie is "slow", "boring" and that "nothing happens". I totally disagree. Of course if you think it's going to be a Mafia thriller or some kind of action movie you will be disappointed. But I thought it was fascinating and very involving. Walken is excellent as usual, Gallo doesn't have an awful lot of screen time but shows why he is one of the most charismatic and exciting actors around, and Chris Penn gives the best performance of his career. Penn alone is worth watching the movie for, he is just so damn good. The supporting cast is one of the best you'll see anywhere. The brother's women are played by Annabella Sciorra ('Cop Land'), Gretchen Moll ('Rounders') and Isabella Rossellini ('Blue Velvet'), and other familiar faces include the wonderful Benicio Del Toro ('The Usual Suspects'), The Sopranos' John Ventimiglia and (very briefly!) Edie Falco, and Ferrara regulars Victor Argo ('Taxi Driver') and Paul Hipp ('Teenage Caveman'). Also keep an eye out for David Patrick Kelly ('The Crow') as a left wing agitator. Every time I watch 'The Funeral' I appreciate it a little more. It's a very subtle and intelligent film that doesn't serve things up to you on a plate. I think it's one of the most underrated movies of the last ten years and I wholeheartedly recommend it. If this is your first experience of Abel Ferrara and you enjoy it, I suggest the moody 'The King Of New York' (also with Christopher Walken) next, then his powerful 'Bad Lieutenant' (Harvey Keitel) and his difficult but rewarding 'The Addiction' (Walken again). Those four movies are his best to date, and not to be missed.
I have always been impressed by the dramatic intensity of Abel Ferrara's films and 'The Funeral' does not fall short of any of them. The true beauty of this film lies in its characters and their emotions and relationships. The plot takes second stage but, honestly, the incredible acting performances will make you feel that a more complicated plot would be absolutely unnecessary. All the important bases of small-time mob life are covered here - God, family, revenge, lies, anger, etc. If you can sit down and watch a movie that chooses atmosphere and character over action, then I highly recommend this movie. You will be blown away.
The Funeral is a dark and gritty story that plumbs the characters in a
New York band of criminal brothers. It doesn't have the romantic sweep
of a Godfather movie, nor the rawness of Scarface. But it does have
great acting: the cold, sinister aloofness of the
leader-brother(Christopher Walken); the raging insanity of the
bartender-brother(Chris Penn); and, the cockiness of the younger
communist-influenced brother. Annabella Scioria as the wife with a
tortured psyche who "had two years of college", and Bennissio del Toro,
as the suave and slick rival mobster round out the terrific cast.
But the movie does have some problems. The abrupt, "surprise" ending is consistent with the arcs in the movie, and is supported by trends in the characters' developments, but seems unsatisfying. Also, long philosophical conversations between killer and victims seems unrealistic. While these conversations(and flashback sequences) give insight into characters, it just doesn't seem likely.
Watch this movie if you are a fan of crime/Mafia films, and you can enjoy a thoughtful introspection of characters and relationships between characters. Don't watch it if you want to see a "thrill-a-minute", or explosions every other scene.
Once again Ferrara attracts big star names to a small picture with large ambitions. This film would have made a great gangster saga but Ferrara and writer St. John are more interested about the characters than the story. What occurs on the surface may be minimal and very uncreative but deep within you enter the souls of each character who question their values as they mourn the death of a family member. Each one carrying a dilemma to the very surprising ending. This film could have been set in any era as it deals with intelligent issues such as the complex male macho image as questioned by Sciorra's character.
All of director Abel Ferrara's movies are deeply flawed, but he is willing
to take you into darker places than almost any contemporary filmmaker. His
best movies are the bleakest kind of cinematic art, and The Funeral is one
of the best.
To complain about the lack of action in this gangster movie is to miss the entire point. This is a character study of people who have made choices in their lives that have left them without hope, in much the same way as Ferrara's "Bad Lieutenant". Although it is often pretentious and a little boring, it also contains many potent, unforgettable scenes, most notably those featuring Chris Penn, who I frankly didn't think could act until I saw this movie.
"The Funeral" is an unremittingly dark film that at times achieves a terrible beauty. I'm not sure that I would recommend it, but I am extremely glad to have seen it.
The lives of gangster brothers Ray, Chet and Johnny are changed forever when
Johnny is killed. His funeral acts as a time to look back at the past but
also to look inwardly and to the future. The story is told in flashbacks
that mix the past and present to see a gangster life style in all it's
The story here is straightforward however it's multi-layered flashbacks and subplots make it too confusing at times. In simple terms it is two stories Johnny before he is killed, and the lives of his brothers afterwards. The characters make it come to life but the drama inherent in the subject matter helps as well. The story mixes `real' lives, violence and some black humour to good effect the overall point being the point made by Sciorra when she says `there's nothing romantic about it at all'.
The cast are good in particular the Ferrara regulars. Walken gives a more emotional version of his King of New York character and carries much of the moral debate with himself and others. Penn is also good as the self destructive brother and gives a powerful performance without becoming OTT (a la Nice Guy Eddie). Gallo is good although his character is not fully explained why did he look for trouble, why the interest in worker's rights? Rossellini, Argo and Soprano's Ventimiglia are all good and del Toro does yet another quiet cool role.
Overall this is a good film it is graphic and dark, but not as much as some of his other films. The subject matter will appeal to the mass audience (most people seem to like mobster movies) and his unromantic spin on the genre makes up for the occasionally bitty storyline.
I found this an interesting movie, admittedly a bit slow at points, but if
you're out for another "crime gone wrong" or "gangster crime war" film,
forget it. Several reviews complain about a lack of action. It's not an
action film. Several reviews complain about a lack of plot. It's more an
examination of characters than a story. The movie would have been much
better had I been able to hear more of it. The sound editing is truly
abysmal. People's shoes make more noise than their raised voices do. I
actually stopped and rewound a few times to try and catch what people said.
It's not the fault of the actors. It's simply a bad mix
When it comes to cult film-maker Abel Ferrara, people seem to either
love his work or hate it. I think some of his films are great but some
are just rubbish. Fortunately "The Funeral" is far from being rubbish,
but then it's not great either.
Set in New York in the 1930s, the film centres on an organised crime family, headed by brothers Ray (Christopher Walken) and Chezz (Chris Penn) who are set to bury their younger brother Johnny (Vincent Gallo). As Johnny's wake progresses the two remaining brothers reflect on his life and try to track down his killer.
The film is pretty well made, and benefits from strong performances all round. It's main defect is that the film tends to lose focus and go off at tangents (scenes where Johnny attends a Communist rally were pretty pointless). Also, as in many Ferrara films, there is a very blatant religious subtext which sometimes gets in the way of the drama. Also, be warned that there is a lot of pretty brutal violence in this film.
If you like gangster films (and obviously if you're a Ferrara fan) give this a go. It's worth trying anyway just for the quality of the performances.
"The Funeral" is a mind-blowing experience that demands a particular
In fact, you don't need the patience to 'get' it, but to try to put yourself in the shoes of men who're nothing but criminals. But as criminals as they are, they are stuck with this last ounce of humanity giving a meaning to their lives. So let's get this straight, if you're among the kind of cinematic fans with a particular revulsion towards gangsters, this film is not for you, all it will inspire is the kind of demagogic comments such as "good riddance, all these low-life bastards deserve their fate". But if you're interested by the torments invading the souls of these underworld humans, prepare yourself for a disturbing and dark journey into Mafia's hearts of darkness.
It's interesting that the central character is played by Christopher Walken, the actor had always an extraordinary combination of mental instability and charismatic aura in his eyes, the kind of man you don't know if it's safe to approach or to avoid him, in both cases, you respect and fear him. But now, we're in this man's soul at a pivotal moment in his life, when he's trying to determine, during the funeral of his brother Johny (Vincent Gallo), not what the meaning of his life is, but how he can live with himself with his personal idea of justice and the satisfaction to do something ethical. Yeah, I see where you're coming from, how can I ever use the word 'ethic' for criminals? Well, ethics refers to a code, to some behavior that doesn't necessarily take the law as a reference, and from that point, anything is debatable. And when the movie says anything, it sure means it, as even God is concerned.
Although the movie is set during Catholic funerals, the first thing that strikes is the amount of blasphemous rants during the discussions. These men don't believe in God, but they don't sound atheists, it's just as if they had a proud reaction over a religion that casted them out anyway. So if they haven't been touched by the divine grace, which could have inspired them to be good people, so why do they have to blame themselves? If everything is due to God, why should they feel guilty? And now, if it all is a matter of free will, and decision, then what makes their acts more condemnable? Any idea of justice is no better or no worse than another the thought-provoking script invites us to feel an existential empathy toward these men, as if it tried to explicit all the dilemmas that fill the heart of criminals. After all, they have hearts, haven't they? To label them as only cold-blooded murders is another trick to avoid questioning our own approach to evil.
But whatever rationalization it tried to inspire, the counterpart of this thinking relies on the female characters, the wives, who endure the machismo of their husbands and try to figure what the purpose of all this is. Why and how have criminals, killers, fooled them? Some scenes between Annabella Sciorra and Isabella Rosselini suggest a sort of female bonding, as a reactive defensive process from the kind of fusional relationship between the brothers Christopher Walken, Vincent Gallo and Chris Penn -Rest in Peace, Chris, this was your finest performance as the most mentally instable of the three brothers- Never voyeuristic, these scenes of female intimacy where the discussions are intelligently combined with great metaphysic references, translate the lack of morality and belief innate to that cruel male world, and how it can hardly be expressed except in the confinement of a little bedroom.
The whole confinement of "The Funeral", in its setting, is crucial here. There is a cloud of lucidity floating in the air, as if the film trusted our intelligence, by not showing men trying to find excuses, but on the contrary, men extremely lucid about their fate. This is what the whole claustrophobic setting of the film is about, it's an extrapolation of the coffin, symbolizing the whole fate of the family in microcosm. These men are in a dead-end, and they know it damn well. During a heart-breaking scene between Chris Penn and a young prostitute, refusing to deprive her from her innocence, he pays her for not having sex, she asks for the double to have sex with him, provoking an incredible outburst of rage. She'll get paid twice the price then pushed against the wall and assaulted as a punishment for having sold her soul to the devil. This scene brutally reflects these men's understanding of their own conditions : they sold their soul, they know they'll never see the paradise. In other words: their lives are only a suspended sentence to hell. They don't believe in God, but they don't deny His existence either.
So, when it can't get any better, the best you can do is to make it better according to your own codes. And this is the constant disturbing feel of the film, men trying to act according to their sense of justice, their morals, trapped between their humanity and their evilness. Again, Abel Ferrara doesn't invite us to feel empathetic toward gangsters, as sometimes, the movie indecently flirts with some stereotypes to better remind us, the world lying beneath that sober and familial atmosphere. "The Funeral" reflects the affection of true funerals : a profound introspection in order to understand the value of goodness and humanity, because once you put your foot in the dark side, you can't go back, and it doesn't try to fool you with a sort of quest of redemption bullshit. They're grown-up men, and their life IS dead-end. To a point you wonder if the title "Funeral" refers to one man or three souls.
"The Funeral" is an extraordinary, dark and disturbing journey, that will simply wow you at the end so you better get ready.
Though he was the director of that awful thriller, 'Fear City,' Abel Ferrer
offers a movie about mobsters that distinguishes it from a decade of far too
many mobster-themed movies in that it does not glorify mob life. Though slow
in the introduction and sometimes confusing in structure, 'The Funeral'
offers good acting and an intelligent plot.
Ray (Christopher Walken), Chez (Chris Penn), and Johnny (Vincent Gallo) are brothers and members of the same crime family. I suspect that of the small crime unit, the eldest, Ray, is the leader. The film is centered around the funeral of the youngest, Johnny, who was mysteriously shot to death. And the mobsters, especially his brothers, want revenge.
Johnny was an unusual part of such a violent family, too intelligent and often passive. He seemed to be drifting from his destined life of crime, handed down to him from his father to his brothers to him. It is not the role he seeks to fulfill, and it one he often questions, much to the resentment of his brothers, Ray and Chez.
Ray is a much different character than Johnny. As the oldest, he was the first to kill a man when his father offered him a gun to shoot someone he didn't even know. Ray also absconds from any responsibility for what he does, consistenly justifying his actions as something that God forces him to do. Jean (Annabella Sciorra), his wife, asks whether he thinks it is suitable to blame God for his actions. He apparently blinds himself to any reality, and basks in the idea that he is only carrying out someone else's plan. That this is what he has to do. Jean even remarks to Johnny's wife, Helen (Gretchen Mol), that Ray and Chez and everyone else involved just keep perpetrating this one-sided, illiterate way of life.
Chez is yet another counterweight caught in the middle. He is a very sadistic character and one who soon realizes what damage is being done. With Johnny dead and Ray eager for revenge, it is up to him to determine with the cycle continues.
The nature of these characters are particularly interesting in a story that points out the realities of mafia life (for both the mobsters and their wives) as violence begets violence, making for a very intriguing story. Director Abel Ferrer did a good job with this movie. Despite being slow and sometime scattered in focus, it is worth watching.
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