The Funeral (1996)
User ReviewsReview this title
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 Funeral" is a violent movie directed by Abel Ferrara with great characters that are developed through flashbacks along the main storyline. There are great performances and scenes but unfortunately, it seems that neither the writer nor the director knew how to end the story that has an unsatisfactory conclusion. My vote is six.
Title (Brazil): "Os Chefões" ("The Bosses")
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
THE FUNERAL hints that it wants to be mainstream because everyone loves movies about gangsters don`t they ? , and there are a couple of well known actors in it too . Alas there`s an irritating aspect to the screenplay that wants to make certain characters leftists . Why do movies seem to be under the impression that gangsters have socialist ideals ? The British small budget production FACE had this as did the classic ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA . It`s often been said that the mafia are the most sucessful capitalist concept and I`m inclined to believe that
There`s other audience unfriendly concepts to the movie , most of them being the fault of the director like graphic sex scenes , some serious violence especially at the downbeat conclusion , but the one scene that can`t fade from my mind is the scene where some of the male characters are watching a porn movie in a brothel . Young Johnny turns to the woman sitting beside him and they begin some serious french kissing . Did I mention this woman must be about 70 years old ? YUCK
It`s hardly Ferrara`s best work and it`s probably recommended that potential audience members should familarise themselves with the director`s work before watching it
Four out of ten
But this one was rather interesting. These aren't Scorsese style gangsters. They're guys in black suits but their life is much less glamarous. There is much rape and violence and little laughs or friendship. The film focuses on three brothers.. Christopher Walken is legendary in his role as wise but aging family head Ray. Chris Penn plays his rather temperamental (surprise surprise, it being Chris Penn) brother, and Vincent Gallo plays young foolish brother Johnny.
The film opens with the recently deceased Johnny lying in his coffin and everyone gathered around crying. How did he get to be there? The film tells this through flashbacks which occur every few minutes throughout the film, and we also see a part from Ray's youth. Very skilfully done! The time switching happens without us noticing, the film flows so well that we're not in the least bit distracted.
Christopher Walken is Christopher Walken in a Christopher Walken role, Ray... He's taking the Michael Corleone route here, the wise guy, the darker older brother who makes all the decisions for the family. And he's great at it... Chris Penn is Chris Penn in another Chris Penn role. He's completely insane. A brutal, angry man who loses it over nothing and spends his time on screen shouting and swearing at those around him. Chris Penn is really good at this, but I'd like to see him take on an emotional character... He's just doing Nice Guy Eddie over and over again. Vincent Gallo does the Freddie Corleone of the family well, but he's a bit unbelievable as a gangster and the camera has too many close ups on him. Also present in a supporting role is John Ventimiglia, who plays Artie Bucco from The Sopranos! Just thought I'd mention him, brilliant man. There's Benicio Del Toro as the rival gangster boss. He's pretty creepy but doesn't have a big enough part to do the character justice. Overall, the acting out of the two leads - Walken and Penn - is excellent. Typical, but excellent.
Ferarra's been known to be violent and disturbing. Maybe if I'd watched this film a few years back it might have affected me, but it didn't in the least. I am now immune to offense by violence. Some of the film's violent highlights, though, include a stabbing in the heart with a butcher knife, shooting two innocent truck drivers with a shotgun, raping a teenage prostitute (who sold her soul) and an ending pistol massacre.
Despite all this, however, it's an excellent if depressing picture, with many deep and dark performances. The violence is not over the top compared to the likes of De Palma or Scorsese, and it is not disturbing, or maybe that's just me.
I will definitely be seeing more Ferarra movies!
Could have...because despite the strong moments, the intense atmosphere and some good acting performances, this movie has too many gaps. The plot is just not coherent enough. Most characters are not worked out properly: Ferrara introduces important information regarding the character and mentality of especially the dead brother, but he doesn't do anything with it.
Some scenes seem to be superfluous, while on the other hand you get the feeling that some vital scenes are missing.
Not once Ferrara manages to get the viewer really involved in the madness of the disturbed brother... and in this respect, the way the movie ends is really a disappointment. It seems like Ferrara realised he almost ran out of pelicule and needed to end the movie quickly. The final scene is brought without any dramatic construction or real logic.
All the ingredients for a masterpiece are present, except a proper working out...and that's a shame.
Walken delivers a smashing performance that makes the film. Nicholas Cage was originally cast in the role and had he played it, I think the film would have been a disaster. You feel the heat inside Walken AND the solid chill that covers it so that he keeps the illusion of being in control to himself as well as to others. Annabella Scioria does a magnificent job in what is usually a thankless role as the emotionally-wrought wife. Vincent Gallo as the "good" brother is exciting as always. As for Chris Penn, yes he can sing but his acting is way over the top and I was constantly wishing I was watching a George Dzunda who could add the touch of subtlety and pathos that the role required.
The film is incoherent in its use of flashbacks and in some of its muddled character motivations. And a number of times it falls into the familiar cliches of its genre. But it is an original, from-the-heart muddle. It's not a great film by far, but I am grateful to it because it dares to peel under the surfaces of Italian gangsters to show us the wound that is left where faith and innocence had been seared away. Good little film.
Directed by Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant, Body Snatchers "1994", King of New York) made an fascinating, moody, gangster drama with fascinating performances by Walken, Gallo, Annabella Sciorra as Ray's Wife, Isabella Rossellini as Chez's wife, Oscar-Winner:Bencino Del Toro as Gaspare Spoglia and especially Penn as a deeply troubled and ill-tempered Chez. Although "The Funeral" is flawed in places. I hate to admit this but Gallo certainly has an tough time playing the corpse at the funeral. Especially when Ferrara uses close-up of the actor... his eye-lids moves! Also towards the ending, there's another actor, who has an tough time playing an corpse as well!
DVD has an decent Pan & Scan (1.33:1) transfer but the DVD has some digital images problems. DVD has an good Dolby Stereo 2.0 Surround Sound. The DVD is from "Three Films Gangster Collector's Set". "Abel Farrara's The Funeral" is with two another movies on the DVD. Which they are "The Last Days of Frankie the Fly" with the late Dennis Hopper, Daryl Hannah, Kiefer Sutherland and Michael Madson. The other film is "The Immortals" with Eric Roberts, Tia Carrere and the late Tony Curtis.
"Abel Farrara's The Funeral" is close to being an great movie but i will admit it, it's a very good movie, despite some flaws keeping this picture from being an masterpiece. The late Penn gives the strongest impression on the film with his impressive performance, it is certainly the best i seen from him. Other cast members like Walken, Sciorra, Rossellini, Gallo and Del Toro have their moments. If you haven't seen "Abel Farrara's The Funeral", don't miss it. Written by Nicolas St. John (The Addiction, China Girl, Ms. 45). Which St. John has written some of Farrara's best work as a filmmaker. Sciorra is one of the associate producers of the feature. (****/*****).
For a character piece it's fatally flawed. The acting is strictly from the shout-and-then-repeat-with-added-F-words school of Italian-American gangster performances and very quickly gets tiresome. In fact it appears that much of it has been improvised, with director Abel Ferrara seemingly content that if the actors shout enough, get suitably red-faced and spittly, and repeat the same question enough times they'll qualify as "intense." They don't.
Chris Penn is the worst offender, turning in an awful performance that wants to be Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant but emerges more like Christopher Lloyd in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Christopher Walken plays himself but even that seems to disinterest him unless he's being given the chance to indulge in some painful "I'm an ac-tor!" moments - best demonstrated in the scene where he cries and shouts at his brother's corpse - and it's left to Gretchen Mol and Isabella Rossellini to deliver the only decent performances.
Considering the budget the period feel is quite good, there's some occasional gratuitous violence to keep things interesting, and the generally depressing mood of the whole piece is quite effective, but those are small compensations for having to sit through all that repetitive shouting and those horribly self-indulgent performances.
Apart from two good performances from Walken and Penn, this movie lacks character detail, plot and lacks contemporary quality of the 1930's. There is unconvincing atmosphere between the characters and it is just disappointing.
The highlight of the movie comes from Christopher Walken who whips out some good sayings and seeks his revenge.
I got this film on a three DVD box set with Road to Perdition and Miller's Crossing. I'd already seen Miller's Crossing. I don't think it can be classed in the way that Miller's Crossing can.
Its worth watching but I doubt anyone will watch it for a second time.
The youngest of a trio of mob brothers is dead, thus the title of the film. Walken and Penn play the older brothers Ray and Chez, who are seeking little brother Johnny's killer. But the process is slower than watching paint dry. The long-suffering wives (Sciorra and Rosellini) are pretty much a waste of space. They scream, cry and smoke a lot. Little tenderness exists between them and their spouses. Whilst looking for the killer, the brothers drink, carouse and swear a lot.
The movie explores how Johnny got killed in the first place, with an strange plot twist involving communism. Johnny is basically a womanizing jerk that his brothers don't seem to care about much until he's dead. I guess it's the a la famiglia thing.
Walken's about the only worthwhile part of this film, when you're not suppressing a yawn. He tries to breathe life into a fairly lifeless film.
Do yourself a favor. If you're longing for sleep and are out of Sominex, watch this film. It'll have you in dreamland in a matter of minutes.
While the performances are all fine, the young actors in the early flashback do not match the present day brothers, who do not even remotely resemble each other. Moreover, at his brother's casket, Penn states "Johnny" died at age 22, which would put Walken, Penn, and Gallo in their early to mid-twenties. The storyline takes time to decipher, which is fine; but, it does leave a few questions unanswered. Director Abel Ferrara and Ken Kelsch contribute great style. It's a man's movie, with memorable bookend roles for Paul Hipp (as Ghouly) and Patrick McGaw (in the cooler); but, wives Isabella Rossellini (as Clara) and Annabella Sciorra (as Jean) also hit the mark.
****** The Funeral (8/28/96) Abel Ferrara ~ Christopher Walken, Chris Penn, Vincent Gallo, Benicio del Toro