Having been reasonably impressed by 25th Hour, I took a step back to watch this similarly NYC concerned one.
Judging by comments here, Lee seems to get people worked up about stereotyping awfully easy. It doesn't seem any worse here than in many other US films, but for some reason, by the simple fact of being a black director directing an almost exclusively white cast I imagine, this grates with some people. But Italian-Americans in films are a genre by themselves and it's open to all to put their take on it. He gets people worked up, that's an achievement of sorts. The fact that Lee has been persistently vocal about racial issues makes it tempting for some to try and get some of that mud to stick to him. To me, he all too often seems to be a New York director making New York films, like many others.
My problems with the film aren't with the portrayal of Italian-Americans. There's good and bad in most of these characters and it's kind of paint-by-numbers with some of them for sure. But that's mainstream American cinema for you, from whichever quarter.
At times, I thought I was watching Lee trying a bit hard to do Scorcese. There's a good soundtrack, but it's overly intrusive and it doesn't mesh or play counterpoint with the content that well at times. The punk elements are risible and this really lets it down in terms of historical accuracy, it just looks all wrong. That crowd outside CBGB's are clearly latter-day punks for hire and not those you'd see in '77. All those piercings? Not that style anyway. And all those Stratocasters... Didn't anyone advise him on this?
The idea is good, but it's never focused enough on the central story and it's too long. It's a shame, as this film could have worked much better with 25th Hour as two New York films on either side of 9/11. I imagine that event would encourage him to make Summer of Sam quite differently if he were to do it now.
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