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IN SHORT: A confusing mess. [Rated R for strong violence, sexual content, drug use and language. 90 minutes]
Filmmaking is a very intense process made even more so when you are carrying the weight of more than one job on your shoulders. Doubling up is one of the necessities of independent or low budget filmmaking and it also brings with it a major problem. The problem is the writer/director combo. One man knows his story intricately. So much so that it never occurs to him that vital information is missing when he directs all the actors and edits the raw product. Such a mess is Under Hellgate Bridge, whose main characters are barely developed and whose intent changes radically as the film plays out.
Or it may be that everything is actually in the script and the actors don't have the chops to pull it off. Either way, responsibility rests on the shoulders of writer/director Michael Sergio.
Two years ago, Ryan Daniels (Michael Rodrick) was packed off to the big house when love of his life Carla (Jordan Bayne) lied to a court. The charge is never specified in Sergio's script but it's a pretty safe bet that it has something to do with drugs -- Ryan talks of needing his first year in the joint to get clean and heroin use is all over the old neighborhood. Ryan's younger brother Jimmy OD's and drops dead in the first minutes of Under Hellgate Bridge. His other brother Eddie (Brian Vincent) and wife (?) Doreen (Careena Melia) are both heading down that hellbound path.
Welcome to the more unpleasant sides of Astoria, Queens, New York.
In the years that have passed, Carla has married, and has a son by, the street's main man, Vincent (Jonathan LaPaglia). Yes, it was Ryan versus Vincent for the hand of the fair maid, but that's history. Carla makes it clear that she's happy. Ryan makes it clear to the (Mafia) powers that be -- Vincent's boss Big Sal (Frank Vincent) -- that he isn't back to make trouble. Any anger or urge to take physical action is dispelled in talks with the local priest, Father Nichols (Dominic Chianese).
Ryan wants to get his family out of Astoria. Period. At least, that's what he wants in the first half of the film.
What is terribly unclear is that brother Eddie has deeper ties to Vincent than that of user/ supplier. Bits of dialog indicate that Eddie is working the street for Vincent, though in what manner I can't tell you. Eddie is too much the junkie to be trusted as a dealer, yet that appears to be the case as we reach one of the more violent climaxes of the pic involving a distribution double cross in which Eddie winds up with $60K of Vincent's money and a kilogram of pure smack belonging to a pile of dead Latinos.
As for the other men, it may be that Vincent is so jealous and possessive that he must demonstrate control over his wife in Ryan's face. How he does it is exceptionally distasteful and completely out of whack with the demonstrations of love and affection seen earlier in the film. Vincent's manipulations of Eddie, hinted at above, set up a greater need on Ryan's part to get ultraviolent.
And out of the blue comes a shocking, surprise revelation when an off camera Father Nichols violates the sanctity of the Confessional. We don't spill Third Act surprises. If you sit through Under Hellgate Bridge you won't miss it. The surprise makes no sense in the context of the story you have seen -- up to that point. If you look at the overall story after the fact, the holes in Sergio's script glare like spotlights.
Oh, we forgot about the dope. According to the film, the "need" never lets go and this leads to yet another twist of a character's actions. By the time it happens, Under Hellgate Bridge was such a lost cause that we didn't care. We're sure that writer/director Sergio understands everything that went into his labor of love. We, in the audience, prefer to see characters develop and plots move in logical directions on the actual big screen. They don't here.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Under Hellgate Bridge, he would have paid . . .
We've worked in and have family living in Astoria. It's a working class neighborhood which has seen much harder times. Under the care of cinematographer Leland Krane (and a positive nod to Sergio on this point, as his background is shooting television commercials) the neighborhood looks absolutely gorgeous.
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