Keitel plays the lead in this schizophrenic movie in which he is continually pulled by the two conflicting sides of his personality, on the one hand that of a quiet piano virtuoso and on the other a ruthless debt collector for his mobster father.Written by
a very calm-cool-collectedly made film about a truly unstable being
Well, Reservoir Dogs fans, if you've been wondering really where the film is where Mr. White plays Mr. Blonde, this might be it. Only don't expect the same form of psychopathic behavior. Keitel's Jimmy Fingers is a sort of time bomb at times needing to be either detonated or waiting to be set off, and there's even an echo too (or rather the other movie is an echo of this) in Do the Right Thing. But James Toback's script is very particular about his various, half annoying half dangerous tendencies carrying around a radio and a knack for classical music and grit. And Keitel moves in this world like a man so within his own mind that the only way he can act sometimes is in bottling it up before it comes out. It's a very tough performance to pull off, as there's more fascination in what the character completely lacks than in his virtues. It's sometimes teeters even on becoming very uncomfortable to sit through, just in the psychological sense. We may not hate Jimmy Fingers, but he can test patience like it's nothing.
Still, Keitel makes it such a character of idiosyncrasies and at the same time a weird kind of charm that at first sort of reminded me of his debut in Who's That Knocking at My Door. He's aiming for concert pianist, of the level on Carnegie Hall standards. But his father also has him collecting/making bets, and thus getting into things of a sometimes violent and ugly nature. And there's always that radio, blasting out the 'golden oldies' of the kind they used to play on CBS FM in New York. There's even a touch of the Brando-type character in Keitel's mood and mannerisms at times, plus that compulsory sexual nature with women. Towards the end of the film this becomes almost too perverse to handle, and Toback always deals with such dicey material head-on, without pulling any tricks with the camera (in fact, he only so occasionally moves it). While the filmmaker tests the waters with possibly become unnerving and off-its-hinges with watching such unconventional material, more or less he pulls off what he wants, and Keitel is a force to be reckoned with as an actor here. He may lack the realistic volcanic force and wit of a Mr. White, but the not-totally-sadistic Mr. Blonde comes out with just a great hint of the obsessed artist in there too (and what great music there is).
In terms of referring to the 2005 French remake, the Beat That My Heart Skipped, I found that it might be one of those rare cases where the remake does out-do the original, at least in terms of dramatic involvement and in really getting more into the relationship between the father and son (plus there was more ambiguity in terms of the young man's mind state in the French version). But Fingers still holds its own decades later by standing out in the crime genre of the period, and it's up there in Keitel's underrated cannon of work.
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