by Elaine Perrone
In his ironically titled City of Hope, set in an unnamed inner city in the throes of physical, cultural, and moral decay, John Sayles expertly weaves together the lives of some 40 characters (most, Sayles regulars) in a tapestry involving familial loyalties, political malfeasance and graft, police brutality, race relations, and the despair of living in poverty in the midst of urban crisis.Joe Rinaldi (Tony Lo Bianco) is a building contractor and slumlord with ties to corrupt city officials, who is being coerced to torch a ghetto apartment building in order to make way for an upscale condo-shopping mall. His son Nick (Vincent Spano), a heavy cocaine user and gambler, gets himself involved, in typical fuck-up mode, in a botched robbery of an electronics store, exacerbating the pressure being put on his father, who is forced to use his connections to keep his son out of jail.
"An intricately woven tapestry of a city in despair."
Further complicating Nick's circumstances, and compromising his father's plan to save him, is his budding romance with Angela (Barbara Williams), whose obsessed ex-husband Rizzo (Anthony John Denison), a cop with a hair-trigger temper and a drinking problem, has made the destruction of Nick his personal mission.
Meanwhile, Wynn (the outstanding Joe Morton), an idealistic city councilman, works hard to protect the ghetto housing in which many of his constituents live, all the while being castigated by black militants for kowtowing to the white establishment. Getting involved in a no-win, racially divisive case of two black boys who have falsely accused a white teacher of molesting them in a public park, Wynn ends up burying himself, and his ideals, compromising both for the sake of political expediency.
Swirling around these central characters are the fat-cat politicians who have no qualms about exploiting the poor if it means feathering their own nests; a black community that has no compunction against propagating a lie if it helps further their own agenda; and a police department prone to violence and racism, whose members quickly close ranks to protect the wrongdoing of their own.The hard-working Sayles (here, the director, writer, editor, and co-star) spares no one, least of all himself, in this unflinching tale of greed, corruption, exploitation, and compromised principles, casting himself as the venal "Carl, the Fixer," a snake of a man whose sordid history with the Rinaldi family is yet another link in the chain that ties Joe's hands and is wrapped securely around his neck.
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originally posted: 07/15/04 23:02:22