The Funeral

Abel Ferrara has finally directed a family film. A period piece that brings back memories of Brooklyn from an earlier age. The kind where the neighbors might have said, "They were such nice people. And the body in the living room was so well laid out. He almost looked as if he was still alive." Yes, in the good old days the wake was in the living room at home. But normally it didn't lead to events as extreme as those portrayed here. The ensuing search to discover the killer of a family member and avenge his death become the view of one specific moment in the legacy of evil that has continued to haunt a family throughout the generations.

Three Italian-American brothers involved with the criminal world go about their daily business and live their lives as violence keeps them constant company. While we follow the saga of the Tempio family, we grow to know them better, discover their personal interests, experience their private passions and meet their separate family members. Ray (Christopher Walken) is cold, cool and utterly cruel, Chez (Chris Penn) is violent and explosive, and Johnny (Vincent Gallo) is a ladies' man with a leaning toward the left. Their ladies are equally divergent in type: Ray's wife, Jeanette (Annabella Sciorra), is well educated and says what she thinks; Chez's wife, Clara (Isabella Rossellini), is sensitive, frightened and would never think of speaking out of turn; Johnny's fiancee, Helen (Gretchen Mol), is quiet and shy. Johnny has been shot in the street outside a movie theatre (ring bells?) and prime suspect is rival gangster Gaspare Spoglia (Benicio Del Toro), with whose wife Johnny was having an affair. What happens, how it happens, and who it involves is what the film reveals. Ray, the oldest of the trio, whose responsibility is to keep the brothers in line, was taught the lessons of protection and survival by his father at a very early age and it has had a life-long effect on him. His understanding of compassion and forgiveness is fixed forever. His hawk-like eye is trained to quietly watch and pursue until the bitter end. The end itself may come too suddenly and unexpectedly for some, but fits neatly into the framework while remaining both solid and shocking.

Easier to swallow, if you'll excuse the term, than some of his earlier excursions into the seamier side of life, it retains the atypical power and force that has become associated with Ferrara's work. Those who like his work will most likely enjoy it, even though it's softer than usual; those who normally don't, may discover enough easing up on those nerve-grinding and stomach wrenching moments to enjoy this one; those unacquainted and uninitiated might take this chance for an introduction. When all is said and done, the administration of a few more doses might be necessary before a larger public is ready to accept what is Abel.

Superb points for Christopher Walken, Chris Penn, Benecio Del Toro and (the always amazing) Annabella Sciorra. Penn, especially, seems to grow with each role he plays.

Charles Logola's production design exudes an overwhelmingly authentic feeling of the era of the Great Depression down to the very fixtures and wallpaper, which shouldn't be too surprising considering the beautiful work he has done in the past on such productions as Fried Green Tomatoes.

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett