Tag Archives: Dennis Farina

“I’m not fallin’ all over myself to talk about much anywhere, Jack.” Manhunter Revisited – by Josh Hains

“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”
– Friedrich Neitzsche

Will Graham doesn’t want to take the job Jack Crawford is offering, and we can hardly blame him. We are able to infer that whatever happened to him was of such a horrific nature that it caused his retirement from the FBI as a criminal profiler. We later learn in little bits and pieces (and not in an unnecessary prologue; I’m looking at you, Red Dragon) that a confrontation with the cannibalistic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecktor left him physically scarred from presumably gruesome injuries, and mentally broken. Through his body language and the stern, almost melancholic tone of his voice, we discern his reluctance, his unpreparedness, and we can sense the deep pain broiling beneath his calm surface. His peaceful existence in Marathon, Florida with his wife Molly (Kim Griest) and son Kevin is now on the brink of being shattered, all thanks to Jack’s perseverance. All it takes for him to crawl back into darkness is one look at a photograph of the deceased Leeds family, and the knowledge that he can help track down this one last psychopath, as if catching the killer will somehow put to rest his own inner demons from his years as a profiler. Easier said than done.

I revisited Manhunter on September 4th, over two years since the last time I’d seen it in March of 2016, and have given myself these last twelve days to absorb the film all over again. I had forgotten that for all of the darkness, despair, and violence, Manhunter is a beautifully photographed film, particularly during the opening scenes that establish Will’s moral quandary, and the serene dream sequence that occurs when Will falls asleep on a plane later in the picture. Even if Manhunter was somehow a genuinely awful movie, I believe I’d still remember those jaw droppingly gorgeous images conjured up by director Michael Mann and the director of photography Dante Spinotti. It certainly helps that I was watching it in high definition.

We later see that Will Graham (William Petersen) was indeed unprepared for this final job when he comes face to face with Dr. Lecktor in his cell, and experiences some manner of anxiety attack that sends him rushing out of the colossal building he’s incarcerated in. I recognized as with previous viewings, that unlike other interpretations of Lecter (spelled “Lecktor” only here in Manhunter, and spelled “Lecter” in the books by author Thomas Harris, and the other films and television shows) that reach for grandiose heights with the kind of theatricality one might expect from a Broadway production, Dr. Lecktor as played by the great Brian Cox, is a mild mannered, relaxed, everyman take on the character. He’s undoubtedly a psychopath, but his menace doesn’t come though in how he speaks but rather in what is spoken. This approach makes him all the more chilling than later versions because we know from human history that many of the most vile beings who have ever walked this earth, walked upon it in a manner as calmly, politely, and “normally” as Lecktor presents himself to be. What’s more frightening to you, reader: the Lecter you know is crazy before he’s ever opened his mouth because he practically smells of insanity, or the Lecktor you never suspect is insane until you’ve awoken under his knife?

Of course, no serial killer thriller is complete without the law enforcement affiliated lead, here personified with a palpable depth and a grounded everyman quality by William Petersen, in a performance as subdued and internalized as Cox’s Lecktor. Petersen never once strays into any kind of territory that would evoke feeling of his performance appearing fake or forced. He’s as natural as they come, and were it not for the knowledge that he is in fact, merely behaving for the screen, one might assume from his naturalism in Manhunter, To Live And Die In L.A., and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, that maybe he’s the real deal, a cop turned actor like his co-star in Manhunter, the late Dennis Farina. Farina, who was a police officer in the Chicago Police Department’s burglary division for 18 years before Michael Mann used him as a consultant on his feature film debut, Thief (for which Farina also had a small role as an enforcer), turns in an equally as grounded, and entirely believable and authentic performance as Jack Crawford.

And then there’s the cause of Will’s return to profiling, the serial killer dubbed “The Tooth Fairy” for the bite marks he leaves on the bodies of his victims post mortem, better known to us as Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan, who also has a small role in Mann’s Heat). His height and implied strength make him an imposing figure, though he’s also a shy little boy tucked away inside this monstrous shell, afraid to show his cleft palate, and obsessed with William Blake’s painting “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun”, later witnessed in a horrific scene with one of Dollarhyde’s victims, the sleazy reporter Freddy Lounds (the great Stephen Lang). That same painting has inspired an alternate personality borne out of his psychopathy he calls “Great Red Dragon”, which comes to life when he seemingly can’t control urges of both violent and sexual natures. Thanks in large part to Noonan’s eerie performance, and the subtle writing of Dollarhyde by Mann himself, the thin line between compassion and love, witnessed in intimate moments between Dollarhyde and blind co-worker Reba McClane (Joan Allen) with whom he starts a relationship with, and uncontrollable murderous rage, is narrower than the edge of a piece of paper, creating a figure all the more real and subtly terrifying.

It wouldn’t be a Michael Mann film without a memorable score or the use of a popular song, and Manhunter is no exception, complete with a thrilling, pulsating score from Michael Rubini, and The Reds, and the incredibly effective, memorable use of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Godda-Da-Vida” during the climactic confrontation between Dollarhyde and law enforcement led by Graham and Crawford. The use of Red 7’s “Heartbeat” over the credits offers up a welcomed upbeat conclusion to an otherwise dark picture.

In my revisitation of Manhunter, I took note of something that I had noticed the very first time I saw Manhunter in my teens (at the very least 11 years ago), and that has stuck with me ever since: the scene when Will visits the Leeds family home to scour the crime scene for clues to their murders, which is also where I came intonthe movie all those years ago when I caught it on television. This interpretation of Will Graham doesn’t just stand in the bedroom of the deceased Mr. and Mrs. Leeds and state into a tape recorder what he thinks occurred, like later versions. He scans the room before he ever says a word, his eyes circling the room from left to right, his mind at work taking in all of this visual information and formulating his idea of what happened simultaneously. When he’s done absorbing the scene, he speaks, low and taking his time, telling us how he thinks they died, and more, in full graphic detail. While we thankfully never bear witness to the events that actually occurred, we move onto the next scene with a clear understanding of what more than likely happened, without the sensation that we just listened to an unnecessarily long exposition dump. It’s a bone chilling scene, given the terrible subject matter, but an effective one we might not soon forget.

I’ve also come to recognize as I’ve grown older, that this same scene also conveys what it is about Will’s brilliant skillset as an FBI criminal profiler that compelled Jack Crawford to ask Will to step out of retirement to help him capture this one last criminal in the first place; to knowingly pull him out of paradise only to thrust him into a personal hell that endangers his family and himself. And why Will Graham said okay.

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Barry Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty

Barry Sonnenfield’s Get Shorty could also laterally be called Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty, since star John Travolta fought tooth and nail to keep all of the author’s dense, intelligent and pop culture soaked dialogue intact. The film is not only better for it but comes out a glowing gem, a giddy crime/comedy classic that’s as special to me as a comfort blanket to a toddler. A rainy day film, a lazy Sunday go-to DVD, I could watch the thing anytime and not only be consistently entertained with each revisit, but notice something I didn’t the previous couple hundred times. Travolta has never been cooler as Chili Palmer, a silver tongued Miami mobster who is propelled on a meta odyssey to Los Angeles after his boss dies and a whirlwind of confusion is whipped up. There he gets a taste for the film industry after meeting sad-sack B movie mogul Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman, priceless), scream queen actress Karen Flores (Rene Russo, never sexier) and a host of others. It’s a Hollywood satire, a pulpy crime thriller, a brilliant dark comedy and ensemble screwball piece that comes as close to the shores of perfection as movies can get. Dennis Farina gives one of his timelessly precious, angry wiseguy turns as Ray ‘Bones’ Barboni, another Miami hood and the barbaric, obnoxious answer to Travolta’s cool cucumber gentleman act. Delroy Lindo has further villain duties as crime kingpin Bo Catlett, who also has his sights set on celluloid and will intimidate, kill and extort his way there at any cost. Danny DeVito does a sly, biting send up of method acting as Martin Weir, a lovable thespian with his head just a wee bit jammed up his own ass. James Gandolfini is pure class as Bear, the stuntman who moonlights as an enforcer and carries his adorable daughter around anywhere he goes. Rounding out the cast are perfectly pitched turns from Jon Gries, David Paymer, Bette Midler, Martin Ferrero, Miguel Sandoval, Jack Conley and a special surprise cameo that I won’t spoil. Although not my favourite Leonard adaptation (Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight holds those honours), it’s definitely the most fun, and by far the most entertaining. The cleverness of offhand Hollywood jargon, peppered with obscure references that expect the cinephile in you to keep up are pure bliss, not to mention the tongue in cheek tough guy banter, the playful music by John Lurie, the lighthearted, whip crack editing from Jom Miller/Ted Woerner and the showcase performances from all actors involved, feasting on Elmore’s fine dialogue like steak & lobster. There’s a sequel called Be Cool which I have been reluctant to see, so I can’t weight in on it but apparently it doesn’t measure up, so you could always divert and check out Sonnenfield’s 2001 comedy Big Trouble, which is fun too and shares some costars with this (Farina and Russo appear in both). Or you can just pop this masterpiece in for another visit, and let it be it’s own sequel. I do all the time.

-Nate Hill

Midnight Run

Buddy comedy. Action crime extravaganza. Road trip flick. Endlessly charming. Funny beyond words. Surprisingly emotional where it counts. Midnight Run is a low key American classic and one of the best films ever put out by any studio. As close to perfect as it gets, engaging from beginning to end and rooted in it’s central relationship between terminally cranky bounty hunter Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) and straight laced, on-the-lam embezzling accountant Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Gordon). They couldn’t be more dysfunctional, paired together on a country wide goose chase and pursued by the FBI (hilarious buffoon Yaphet Kotto, subject to a running joke for the ages), the world’s angriest Chicago mobster (Dennis Farina), a hapless fellow bounty hunter (John Ashton) and a weaselly bail bondsman (Joe Pantoliano). Deniro is a bitter, alienated lone wolf whose brittle exterior is gradually chipped away at by the warm-hearted, endearingly persistent Grodin, and their mutual character development is simply some of the best ever written and acted. The supporting cast whirls about them in perfect harmony, while every stroke of the plot lands neatly, for about as close to a perfectly staged narrative as you can get. My favourite sequence has to be the most affecting (because I’m a sap): the pair visits Jack’s ex wife and kids, and a heated, long overdue domestic squabble is stopped dead in it’s tracks as Jack’s daughter, who hasn’t seen him in nine years, walks into the room. It’s a heart wrenching scene in a mostly glib and cavalier film, but it’s little moments like that that set this apart and turn it from a formula flick into a formula flick populated by genuine human beings, and not simply written avatars for plot propulsion. The two leads have banter for the ages too, like when Grodin coaxes Deniro out of resentful silence by hinting that chickens they just spotted on an Indian reservation are looking pretty foxy, one in a countless stream of fresh, pithy and completely believable verbal interaction the two share throughout the film. It’s fun, exciting, rowdy, effortlessly well made, brilliant storytelling, and will always be way up there on my list of all time favourites.

-Nate Hill

Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight


No one does the breezy, goodnatured crime drama like Steven Soderbergh, and after rewatching his 1998 romantic caper Out Of Sight, I’ve realized it’s my favourite of his films by a mile. The easygoing love story between George Clooney’s hapless career criminal Jack Foley and Jennifer Lopez’s feisty federal Marshall Karen Sisco is a pairing for the ages, and the two not only smoulder up the screen with their obvious presence, but have effortless chemistry in spades and know how to sell the romance until you feel that tug on the ol’ heartstrings when the stakes are raised. It doesn’t hurt that cinematographer Elliott Davis beautifully frames each encounter with them, the best being a gorgeous airport dinner where the two croon out Elmore Leonard’s savoury, measured dialogue against a snow laden Tarmac outside, the perfect romantic ambience. Foley is a trouble magnet, embroiled in scheme after scheme with his older, wiser partner Buddy (Ving Rhames). After their dipshit pal Glen (a stoned Steve Zahn) gets them mixed up in a plot to rob a pompous Wall Street millionaire (Albert Brooks) via some truly nasty jailbird thugs from their collective past (Don Cheadle provides the film’s only true dose of menace amongst the charm), all hell breaks loose and against odds, Jack and Karen find themselves falling in love. Elmore Leonard’s scripts always seem to find their way to great directors (Barry Sonnenfield made magic with Get Shorty), richly varied casts (Jackie Brown is an ensemble for the time capsule) and end up as films that are simply timeless. Dennis Farina mellows out as Karen’s concerned ex-cop father, Luis Guzman does his grimy cholo rat shtick, and watch for Catherine Keener, Nancy Allen, Isiaah Washington, Paul Calderon, Viola Davis, an uncredited Michael Keaton playing none other than his Jackie Brown character (an Elmore Leonard cinematic universe!) and a surprise cameo right at the end that I won’t spoil except to say it sets up any potential sequels nicely. The whole deal rests on Lopez and Clooney’s shoulders though, and they’re nothing short of mesmerizing. It’s a rag tale romance, classy but down to earth, two beautiful souls from very opposite sides of the tracks who generate sparks and circle each other like cosmic magnets. Stuck together in the trunk of a speeding car, they discuss life, love and films, reminding us that no romance is alike to another and the best way to start off something like that is perhaps on the wrong foot and in the least imagined circumstances possible. Like any love story it knows that a pinch of sadness is necessary to balance the bittersweet recipe and tweak our emotions just right. A career best for George, Jennifer and Steven and a film worthy of classic status. 

-Nate Hill

Michael Mann’s Luck: A short lived masterpiece 


Michael Mann’s Luck was a painfully short lived HBO original series with reach-for-the-stars potential, a mind blowing cast and a terse, eccentric script from David Milch, all fuelling a brilliant ensemble storyline set in a pristine Los Angeles horse racing track. I’ll get the elephant out of the room right away: the series was cancelled due to a few of the horses dying on set, for whatever reasons. Had it been allowed to continue though, I imagine it would have gone on to become one of the network’s, and Mann’s, most hallowed and heralded works. Dustin Hoffman is the centrepiece of the cast as Chester ‘Ace’ Bernstein, a sharp witted Jewish mobster who’s recent stretch in the joint has somewhat dulled his edge. Nevertheless, he slyly takes a stab at playing his hand with horse ownership, joined by his charismatic driver Gus (Dennis Farina, reliably wonderful). There’s all kinds of other hoopla going on, and it’s cool to see the story focus on both the upper crust elite doing their shady deals as well as everyday joes tossing their money into these worshipped games. Kevin Dunn is terrific as a disabled firebrand of a gambler, joined by his two scrappy pals (Ritchie Koster and Jason Gedrick) as they try out their own brand of luck. Jill Hennessy is a determined horse trainer who clashes with a belligerent owner (Yul Vasquez), and there’s two ominous crime kingpins played by Michael Gambon and Ted Levine who hover in the shadows as well. Further still is a heartbreaking turn from Richard ‘Bing Bong’ Kind as a stressed out jockey manager, Nick Nolte as a crusty, broken-down horse trainer, Joan Allen, Alan Rosenberg, Spencer Garrett, Don Harvey, Ian Hart, W. Earl Brown, Shaun Toub, Bruce Davison, Frank Collison, Mercedes Rhuel, Tony Curran and a cameo from Jurgen Pröchnow as the stern owner of the whole track. How’s that for a cast. I must say that the dense, peculiar dialogue from Milch takes some time getting used to, but once you tune in to it’s jive, it’s pure poetry being rattled off by every character, and a gorgeously structured, meticulously layered script at that. The actors are all on a plane of pure excellence as well, many of them turning in career best efforts and bringing their roles vividly to life. The cinematography from various artists is pure spun gold too, every sparkling irrigation sprinkler, glistening horse coat, careful closeup and crop of dirt kicked up by hooves captured succinctly and smoothly. This seriously is as near to a perfect season of television as one can get, and it kills me that it got cut down before it had a chance to really get going, because just think of the places it could have gone. At least we still have this first glorious season to admire, and I recommend every minute of it. 

-Nate Hill

Paparazzi 


Paparazzi is one of those ones that probably sounded pretty silly on paper, but one of the studio execs had a good sense of humour on a morning after getting laid and said “aw hell, green light this just for kicks.” It doesn’t hurt to have Mel Gibson as a producer either, who also makes the teensiest cameo. The concept is simple: action film star Bo Laramie (Cole Hauser) is harassed by a sleazy hyena pack of determined celebrity photographers, until they take it one step too far, resulting in tragedy. Bo then plays the art imitating life card, goes all vigilante on them and quite literally hunts each one down and kills them. A synopsis like that has to illicit a dark chuckle from anyone who reads it, and you’d think the resulting film would be oodles of fun, but they’ve somewhat played it safe. A concept this ridiculous should be over the top, reach for the stars insane, a hard R black comedy Death Wish set in Hollywood, if you will. What we get is something more on the glossy side, the filmmakers dipping their toe into the pond of potential, yet never saying ‘fuck it’ and diving right in. The paparazzos are played to the heights of hilarity by a solid scumbag troupe: Tom Sizemore is so perfect as their a-hole ringleader, just a dime piece of a casting choice. Daniel Baldwin looks seriously haggard, while Tom Hollander and Kevin ‘Wainegro’ Gage round out this quartet. Dennis Farina is fun as a sharp, shrewd Detective who gets wise to Bo’s act as well. It’s all serviceable, and yet I wish it went that extra mile to give us something downright shocking and memorable. Perhaps they should have reworked the script, brought in a wild card director and gone the indie route. Oh well. 

-Nate Hill

The Last Rites Of Joe May: A Review by Nate Hill

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The Last Rites of Joe May is Dennis Farina’s bittersweet swan song, his final exodus from a long, epic and beloved career, showcasing the actor in the role he was always meant to play, and a lead role no less. He did a few other films after this one and a priceless cameo on Family Guy, but this is the spiritual final entry, and when you look at the story of the film, it’s both eerie and fateful that the man would go on to pass away just a few years later. He plays Joe May here, a Chicago wiseguy and short money hustler who has been in the hospital with pneumonia for almost a year. Upon returning to his borough, he finds his apartment rented out to a woman (Jamie Anne Allman) and her daughter (Meredith Droeger), all his belongings sold, and his presence pretty much forgotten, with some even under the belief that he has died. The woman takes pity on him and let’s him stay in his apartment with them if he helps her out, and he goes back to the same hustling, or at least tries too. All his ventures have gone dry, his former boss (a splendid Gary Cole) giving the cold shoulder. Joe starts to realize that one must face the eventual consequences of a life lived in selfishness and foolhardy actions, as he finds himself alone in the world and shunned even by his own son. He gets a shot at redemption upon having the little girl in his life, and being there to help out her mother who has one lowlife monster of a boyfriend that just happens to be a cop. Farina is sensational in every scene, and it’s a shame the guy didn’t ever get more lead roles. He makes Joe a grim yet sympathetic being who serves as a sorrowful reminder of how we all will arrive at the end of our road someday, and how important it is to line said road with good deeds, kindness, respect and worthwhile ventures, even if they only show up in the last few miles of it. This is a Tribeca festival film so it’s tough to find, but anyone with a love for Farina or simple, well told and emotional stories should definitely check it out. The beautiful piano score adds to the loneliness of Joe and his state of mind, as does Farina’s performance which a a gift to filmgoers and contains see of the hardest work and piercing truth I’ve ever seen from the guy. RIP.