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Savage and sad....
Tim Kidner3 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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Raw, naked, haunting & cold.
Martin-16523 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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A superior drama, and a stunning debut for director James Gray.
Melville-77 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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Where is James Gray now?
RJC-419 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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Another intense performance by Roth
tieman645 March 2012
Warning: 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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The prodigal son returns.
lastliberal9 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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great for movie fans, but not for the popcorn-munching masses.
bampf24 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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Best I've seen Roth do
smatysia9 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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We'll wait 10 seconds and see if God saves you
OJT18 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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A family movie...
style-improv16 April 2000
The settings are located to some Russian hole in Brooklyn. The snow is falling and people are poor. We meet a family that seems quite normal - and the lost son comes home... He is a killer with some bad folk after him. It´s one more hit before good-bye.

The lost son meets up with the youngest brother in the family. The mother is sick. Father is cheating her with another. And so the trouble begins with the father and son. Family problems, crime syndicate, a fast running past...

The acting is great a la Truffant (loss of feelings) and the tension is well conveyed in the stark camera work and cold violence that culminates with great effect in the ending.

This is not a truly original film, but it doesn´t (like so many others) fall into some it is good.

Well, rent it alone and think about your family.
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Remarkable, picaresque immigrant threnody
Framescourer27 November 2008
When I saw this film I was a bit bored - after all, the chief protagonist is supposed to be a hit-man, a dramatic role if ever there was one. At the same time I found myself pinned to the screen, watching an extraordinary roll-call of performance from three generations of first-class screen actors. It is a great shame that the plot is so makeshift, so flaky.

Roth plays a prodigal hit-man, Joshua, who returns to the town of the title for a contract against his instinct. None of the characters, largely all suffering old, unresolved antagonisms, can help themselves but be drawn to one another on his return, combustibly, tearfully but inevitably. Edward Furlong, a truly exceptional actor in every film in which I've seen him is heartbreaking here. Roth is an empty, jittery presence and the stymied reconciliation with his mother is desperate; Vanessa Redgrave is too much actually, but perhaps it's appropriate given that she is dying. It's too miserable in the end. 5/10
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One of the best movies I've seen...
Reggae13 October 1998
James Gray simply blew my brains out few years ago with this flick! Slow montage is astonishing and despite the lack of action Gray has been able to make his film amazingly interesting... I have seen this film about ten times but I haven't lost the effect. Makes you wonder how somebody is able to make such an intensity on scenes. can't understand why this movie hasn't been more noticed... Oh yeah, the whole cast is terrific!
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Classic Russian Crime Flick
sydneyswesternsuburbs8 August 2011
Director and writer James Gray has created a gem in Little Odessa.

Starring Tim Roth who has also been in other classic flicks, The Musketeer 2001, Gridlock'd 1997, No Way Home 1996, Pulp Fiction 1994, Reservoir Dogs 1992, The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover 1989, Meantime 1984 and Made in Britain 1982.

Also starring Edward Furlong who has also been in other classic flicks, American History X 1998 and Terminator 2: Judgement Day 1991.

Also starring Moira Kelly.

Also starring Vanessa Redgrave who has also been in another classic flick, The Devils 1971.

Also starring Maximillian Schell who has also been in other classic flicks, Vampires 1998 and Cross of Iron 1977.

I enjoyed the violence.

If you enjoyed this as much as I did then check out other classic Russian crime flicks, The Mechanik 2005, Mute Witness 1994, Command Performance 2009, Running Scared 2006 and Driven to Kill 2009.
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A better film than some may think
LatigoMeans9 June 2004
Warning: Spoilers
*** SPOILERS*****

I enjoyed this film primarily because of Tim Roth, Max Schell and the location... Brighton Beach, Brooklyn... the "Little Odessa" of the title. Russian immigrants have made this part of Brooklyn their own over the years... both good and bad Russian immigrants. Such is life.

Roth's need for a family re-connect drives him to put himself at risk as he assumes a murder contract in the "old neighborhood," a place his past has made very dangerous for him. This is not his first "contract" as he is a hired gun, hence his banishment from his family... more specifically his father - Max Schell.

Throughout the film his struggle to connect on any level with where he "comes from" is the underlying theme and ultimately the ruination of his family and love(?) - in parts natural (his Mother), associative (his Lover), accidental (his Brother) and finally purposeful (his Father). For it is his Father's body that he disposes of at the films conclusion (note the slippers and the weight of the body). His stare into space at the fade to black after remembering his last visit with his Mother and Brother, merely enforces the total loss of what he so wanted - to go home. A home now empty of all that mattered to him.

Anyway, that's the way I saw it.
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Great Camera-work; Heady Content
Rick Blaine30 November 2006
It's the camera-work which first impresses in this one. The shots are so well taken.

Roth is excellent, bordering on superb, and should win the Hugh Laurie Award for the best job done portraying (and sounding convincingly like) a 'north a-merican' by a Brit.

Are talents like Schell and Redgrave wasted? Hardly. More: their Russian is very good - something you wouldn't expect from a flick like this. Sometimes the language is almost overly simplistic but the accents are very good.

This is a taut thriller - a scary one - and there are scenes which may have you gasping because they're so stark. As in 'Casino was a Bugs Bunny movie'. Something like that. Is this good? That's another matter. A lot of this is lent by Roth's performance - he's a cold blooded killer and he plays it with more the poker face than Hopkins in Remains of the Day.

Denouement? Watch for it. When the movie's over you might miss the fact it's over. Is this a highly recommendable flick? Hard to say. Some excellent work here. But will you enjoy it? Benefit by it?

That's a much more difficult question.

PS. Hey IMDb! Stop correcting our spelling and giving us no chance to correct your incorrect corrections. Suggesting corrections is one thing; forcing them upon us is quite another.
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Good-looking but empty
jaykay-1016 August 2000
Visually arresting in many of its scenes, the narrative suffers badly from a lack of originality and from characters whose motivations are fuzzy at best. Joshua has had the same type of stable middle-class upbringing as his younger brother, yet he becomes a remorseless killer. Why? Reuben, the younger brother, seems to have sound values; he knows his brother for what he is, yet demonstrates a degree of loyalty far beyond what one would expect. Why? Alla appears reasonably intelligent and not altogether emotionally starved, but is drawn to Joshua. Why?

The final irony in which Reuben and Alla die on Joshua's account will be familiar to even occasional filmgoers.

If the character of the father is to be cited as a source of the sons' alienation, it is altogether human to be frustrated (and therefore quick-tempered) when your best efforts have so little to show for them. The man has been worn down by life, yet he cares for his elderly mother and terminally ill wife with as much tender love as he can muster. An adulterer? With his wife dying slowly of a brain tumor, perhaps he deserves a kinder appellation.

The family is Jewish, although that appears to be of no real significance in regard to the characters, plot or atmosphere. Likewise the story being set in Brooklyn. Striking visuals can do only so much for a film. More attention to the narrative would have been helpful.
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Chilled me...literally
cjshan19 December 1998
The thing I remember that most impressed me about Little Odessa was how director James Gray actually made me feel cold. There are a lot of exteriors that show a frozen, snow covered New York, but the whole thing is so wonderfully photographed that it actually made me feel chilled. The story is above average and Tim Roth is starting to run the risk of stereotyping himself into these kinds of violent characters...but this film will always remain one of my favorites because the simple look of the film affected me.
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So good that it didn't seem long enough
jgaffan16 August 2007
I saw this last night, and on the box somewhere it made reference to being a "Goodfellas" 'ish type of movie...or something along those lines. I cant lie, that was the hook for me being as I love Scorsese gangster movies. This is an EXCELLENT film, amazing in some parts just by the acting alone. Tim Roth...does more with a stare then most can do with words. He was perfect. And after seeing this I really wish I knew of more movies if he's done them were he plays a role similar to this (other then the obvious 'Reservoir Dogs'). Edward Furlong whom I usually don't much care for even pulls off a very believable character. I wont go into detail, or outline some sort of plot. Just go rent this movie if your a fan of the gangster type movies...sorry, GOOD gangster type movies. It is an impressive display of movies not needing excessive violence, but instead great acting to build suspense, or thrills. 9/10
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The "Iceman" cometh
George Parker27 June 2003
In "Little Odessa" (So dubbed after the Russian enclave of the same name in Brooklyn), Roth plays a hit man who returns to the neighborhood of his youth only to find that family matters are not as easily settled as contract killings. The film is an excellent debut for writer/director Gray and, IMHO, much better than his follow-up work "The Yards". "Little Odessa" may be short on story with an obvious absence of the tinselization which comes with big bucks, but it is also honest, unpretentious, and sports an excellent cast. Will play best with reality freaks into crime dramas. (B-)
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A moving story
nameeees26 November 1999
The movie is a realistic story about immigrants in the US. The shots are very good done. You really feel the atmosphere of the Brooklyn area. The very tight feeling when you live here. The problems the people feel and the relationships between different individuals. The old against the young. The Italians against the Russians and so on. I think this movie really get the important points of the life in a multiethnical city.
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Lacks rhythm
Chris L16 January 2013
The first feature of James Gray already relies on his favorite theme, which is the breaking of a family and the choices that result from it.

The interesting points of the script, and more generally the movie, are the complicated relations between the members of this family. The plot, serve badly by a slow rhythm and a static staging, is very weak and doesn't manage to captivate, except for the rather good ending. This is the biggest flaw of this director, never imposing an undeniable force or power to its movies.

All the characters are very cold and don't convey much emotion, therefore it is difficult to feel any sympathy, empathy or disgust towards them, and that's a shame for a drama.

It is to be noted that Gray, in his following movies, will show great improvement regarding his direction, which is here quite hesitant and ultimately blend, especially with the use of cheap zooms.
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The Ultimate Movie Review! -
Tss507825 December 2011
Billed as another Goodfellas, Little Odessa is the story of a mafia hit-man returning home to do a job, as well as seeing the poor immigrant family he left behind. The story is great, the movie is not. Tim Roth is fantastic as the disowned, disgraced, murderous son. Roth always gives a very strong performance and does so again here. Edward Furlong, one of my favorites, unfortunately does not do as well. I've seen him in enough things to know, it's not his fault, it's the writing. This film is so dark and painfully slow that I barely made it through. Very little is explained and the dialog is laughable, even at times non-existent. There are huge plot holes to go along with an ending that makes little sense. The writer was trying to tell his story more through imagery and symbolism in a genre that is based on action. You can't pull off something like this without explaining more of the story and using it to move things along. It's not the worst film I've ever seen, but to be honest, I was bored from start to finish.
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Brighton Beach Story
jeeap6 June 2018
This story lacks a primary source of knowledge. The director is trying to tell you something he doesn't know well himself. As a son of immigrants from the USSR he is obviously interested in his roots but he doesn't bother to learn about them before speading the news. As a result you will see an imaginary community of Brighton Beach that exists only in director's mind.

You will see some popular actors in this movie but not exactly a good acting from them.
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James Gray's feature debut is flawed but fascinating
a_chinn23 November 2017
This was a 1990s crime film I skipped at the time, but now wanted to go back to watch after greatly enjoying writer/director James Gray's more recent film "The Lost City of Z." In this film Tim Roth plays a hit-man for the Russian Mob returning home to Little Odessa, a primarily Russian Neighborhood in New York City, but the main focus is on his younger brother Edward Furlong and the brothers' relationship to each other and their parents, Vanessa Redgrave as the terminally ill mother and Maximilian Schell as the caring father. Although there is a crime story about the mafia going after Roth, at it's core "Little Odessa" is a dark family melodrama. Much like "The Lost City of Z," writer/director Gray creates rich characters with strong performances (Moira Kelly is also quite good as Roth's girlfriend). Both films also similar present a terrific sense of place, that's reminiscent of the works of Herzog or Wim Wenders, where the setting and locations play almost as important a role in the film as the story and characters. An unfortunate similarity between the two films is a slow meandering pace. A major strike against "Little Odessa" is that I'm not quite sure of the film's subtext or central theme. There's likely something about family, but whatever point Gray had in mind gets obscured by subplots and melodrama. Still, despite the film's slow pace and lack of clear purpose, it's visually arresting, features strong performances, and paints a vivid picture of what it's like to live and breath in Little Odessa. Deeply flawed, but well worth watching.
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