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Robert Altman's jazz-scored film explores themes of love, crime, race, and politics in 1930s Kansas City. When Blondie O'Hara's husband, a petty thief, is captured by Seldom Seen and held at the Hey Hey Club, she launches a desperate plan to release him. She kidnaps the wife of a powerful local politician in an attempt to blackmail him into using his connections to free Johnny. Despite this being election time, he risks exposure by putting the political machine into action to free Johnny and thereby save his wife. Mrs. Stilton, meanwhile, has befriended Blondie and is impressed by her love and devotion to Johnny, especially in contrast to her own loveless marriage. Written by
Tad Dibbern <DIBBERN_D@a1.mscf.upenn.edu>
Belafonte Fine, Music Even Better--But Central Miscasting Dooms It!
Like the films of Orson Welles, Federico Fellini or Woody Allen, there's almost always a reason to watch, even if the completed whole doesn't quite add up to the sum of it's parts. Kansas City fits that bill for me.
Altman weaves his usual rich tapestry of lives affected by history in a city alive with jazz and political chicanery, and Kansas City is worth watching for the unexpectedly mesmerizing performance by Harry Belafonte as "Seldom Seen," mobster boss.
The jazz on display is equally dazzling, but just when your mind is settling into some rich, heady music, the film cuts back to the deadly, mannered, whiny performance turned in by Jennifer Jason Leigh; when most film fans recall the disaster that became Godfather III, the director's indulgence of the lackluster performance turned in by Sofia Coppola comes to mind; Leigh's performance similarly affects the tone of Kansas City, and since she is the protagonist, the film's interest flags with her director-free indulgence in some kind of method acting that fails to evoke much but self-indulgence.
In short, Kansas City is well worth a look for superb mise-en-scene,for the music and atmosphere, but is deeply frustrating for it's central performance.
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