“He owns you now”
Call me a sucker, but I highly enjoy films about the criminal underworld of a city like Brooklyn; all those seedy little details that you can imagine actually happening right before your eyes. I was a fan of the short-lived tv series “The Black Donnellys” and really like The Yards and to a lesser extent Sleepers. The new film The Narrows plays with the same types of storylines as these other works, namely centering on one young man, trying to stay good while having one foot in with the mob. Mike Manadoro is that kid, a budding photographer who can’t afford the college tuition necessary to hone his skills. His father refuses to let him take loans and so it’s either give up his dream, one that the professor he received a partial scholarship from says is accessible, or ask for some more work from Tony, the kingpin of the neighborhood. Already driving and partaking in small menial tasks, the ability to earn more means doing things a bit more dangerous, a job that his father says means he is now Tony’s property, to do with what he will. The rest of the film deals with Mike juggling the life he wants with the life he has, one not quite up to par, but needed in order for the future to come to him.
One could argue that this film doesn’t offer anything new to the genre, and I would agree. However, just because it uses the same old standards as others that came before it, does not mean it fails. You can only do so much with this type of story, but as long as the acting works and the plot evolves, I’d be hard-pressed to find one I didn’t at least enjoy. The Narrows falls into this category, it’s a solid movie that may not contain a “wow” factor, but makes up for it with consistent enjoyment. A lot of characters come into play and they all add a little bit to the outcome. This is a tough neighborhood in close proximity with places a bit more affluent then it. Mike is therefore allowed to jump from one world to the other, showing what he could have and what he knows he must come home to. You see, no matter how much he wants to get out, he can’t leave his family and friends behind. It’s a fine line and Mike isn’t afraid to stick by those he loves, whether it’s the smart play or not.
Kevin Zegers plays our lead nicely. He has the look and physique of a thug, but the soft-spoken intellect of someone with bigger dreams ahead of his current situation. There are multiple instances where he must choose between worlds and those choices never seem forced. Scheming for his friends, Zegers has a tendency to put them in front of himself. It’s the way of the street and definitely prevalent here. Already in a relationship, he meets a fellow photographer in Kathy at school. She is his conduit to a better life, an apartment in the city that appears to be owned by a millionaire, the unconditional love of an outsider willing to be with him for who he is and not where he’s from, and a person clean from the world back home. Surprisingly, Sophia Bush does well in the role. She is a pawn to the story, but adds enough emotion and feeling to believe in the relationship and why Mike would risk everything for her.
The real interesting characters come from the little operation in Brooklyn. Tony, at the top of the food chain, is played by Titus Welliver, a man who finally seems to be breaking into Hollywood after a nice run with “Deadwood”. Welliver works well as the tough guy, steely eyed and always deadly serious, wiping a laugh away quick so as to never let down his guard. Then there is Michael Kelly’s Danny, a Born Again Christian working for the mob. He adds an intriguing dynamic to the group, fodder for jokes and also a sense of morals. Recently returned from war, Nicky Shades, rounds out the main players. Always someone Mike looked up to as a kid, Nicky comes home a different man. The war took away his ability to play football, sending him into a depression that only the drugs can help quell. With a soon to be wife and child on the way, Mike can see a man that has a future, but is just throwing it all away. Eddie Cahill embodies this man, a figure for our lead to watch and see how much he has to live for. Watching the self-destructing nature of someone with similar ideals, but not as many smarts, can only start to keep him from the same path.
Films like The Narrows always follow a similar formula, and nothing is different here. A job will go wrong, people will be accused, someone will try and take out the boss only to be burned himself, and our lead will meet many situations to test his strength and will to survive. I guess the truth of the matter is, I bought into it all. This is really the bottom line—you either accept the clichés or you don’t. I really enjoyed the journey all the way through, even when the story decides to surprise us. That surprise involves Mike’s father, another eccentrically sound performance from Vincent D’Onofrio. The role really works towards the conclusion nicely, although I do think the way it all turns out is a bit too much, a little bit of a departure to all that came before it; maybe not in terms of story, but definitely in tone. While the film does have comic instances, the hammy, jokey end is a strange pace change that barely keeps on the rails for me. Otherwise, though, you can’t ask for much more in a Brooklyn street crime film—it’s a sure and steady ride.
The Narrows 7/10 | ★ ★ ★
courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival