Meet the jazz musicians, dancers, owner and guests (e.g. gangster Dutch Schultz) of The Cotton Club in 1928-30s Harlem.Meet the jazz musicians, dancers, owner and guests (e.g. gangster Dutch Schultz) of The Cotton Club in 1928-30s Harlem.Meet the jazz musicians, dancers, owner and guests (e.g. gangster Dutch Schultz) of The Cotton Club in 1928-30s Harlem.
The film's major storyline concerns Dixie Dwyer (Richard Gere), a comparatively ordinary jazz musician who unexpectedly finds himself associating with organised crime boss "Dutch" Schultz (James Remar). Dixie is interesting because, unlike your typical hero consumed by the allure of amoral riches, he always remains peripheral to the world of gangsters; he observes, with disapproval, its dishonesty and depravity, but rarely finds himself a part of it. In fact, the closest he ever comes to being a gangster is in Hollywood, where he shares the sort of film roles that made James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson famous. Coppola might have been offering a commentary on the inherently romanticised version of reality offered by the movies, but his "real world" of gangsters is scarcely less stylised. The seedy underbelly of organised crime is paradoxically depicted as taking place in the classiest locales in Harlem, where the crime bosses consume the best alcohol and mix with Hollywood's elite talent (Chaplin, Swanson and Cagney among the featured patrons).
Proving further that Coppola wasn't attempting to replicate his Corleone saga, 'The Cotton Club' also features a rather extraneous subplot with Maurice and Gregory Hines as African-American tap-dancers vying for the "big-time" at the Cotton Club, where (in a bizarre discriminatory switch) only black performers are hired. The regular cross-cutting between this story and Dixie Dwyer's doesn't quite work, and, in any case, the taut romance between Dwyer and tough-girl Vera (an absolutely gorgeous Diane Lane) is much more involving than that between Sandman Williams (Gregory Hines) and mixed-race dancer Lila (Lonette McKee). Among the film's impressive supporting performers are Bob Hoskins and Fred Gwynne as crime associates, Nicholas Cage as an overly-ambitious young thug, Laurence Fishburne as black crime boss Bumpy Rhodes, and James Remar, playing a sleazier and less identifiable version of Dutch Schultz to Dustin Hoffman in 'Billy Bathgate (1991).' The premiere gangster film of 1984 was Leone's 'Once Upon a Time in America (1984),' but, despite being runner-up, nobody can accuse Coppola of playing it safe.
- May 8, 2009