09 February 2007

Prizzi's Honor

Director: John Huston

John Huston, one of the all time top powerhouse Hollywood directors, continued to make films long after his former contemporaries (like John Ford) had ceased or become deceased. He was nearly eighty years old when he directed Prizzi’s Honor but his technique is nearly as flawless as it was over forty years earlier on his first film, The Maltese Falcon -- there are no superfluous shots or edits. He exclusively uses dissolves to move between scenes and the result is gorgeous. Why don’t contemporary directors use dissolves, by far the classiest transition device available in the grammar, much anymore?

But I digress. Unfortunately, the sophistication in the construction is mismatched with the content. For starters, I’m not ever offended by ethnic stereotypes, but even I was a bit put-off by the caricatural portrayal of Italians in the film, namely by the performances of William Hickey and Lee Richardson. Jack Nicholson stars, sporting a silly Brooklyn-Italian accent, as a hit man for the mob who falls in love at first sight. He marries the girl, a Polack contract-killer from California, and ultimately she brings him nothing but trouble. Nicholson’s acting style is typically over-the-top, and while it can be used to great effect in, for example, The Shining, here when combined with the exaggerated accent the performance approaches the cartoonish.

Which might even be ok, except that the film just doesn’t really work because while half of it wants to be a punchy comedy, the other half aspires to be a bit more serious-minded and sophisticated, and it never finds the right balance. Kathleen Turner’s great in it, but she is playing it pretty straight while Nicholson is playing it pretty silly, and like the two characters themselves, ultimately it just doesn't mesh.

Grade: B-

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