City of Hope
Joe Morton, Todd Graff, Angela Bassett, Vincent Spano, Tony Lo Bianco
Directed by John Sayles
From Return Of The Secaucus Seven to Eight Men Out, John Sayles has spent a decade writing, directing and acting in fiercely independent low-budget films that buck a seductively corrupt system. City of Hope, a riveting look at urban decay, is Sayles's most ambitious film to date.
The film weaves among nearly forty characters over a few eventful days in the fictional New Jersey town of Hudson City. Nick, a hot-tempered cokehead vividly played by Vincent Spano, kicks things off by quitting a union construction job procured by his fatcat contractor father, Joe (Tony Lo Bianco), who has ties with crooked politicos. Nick then gets entangled in a robbery set up by Carl the Fixer, played by Sayles with low-comic sleaze. In a parallel plot, Wynn, an idealistic black city councilman — extremely well acted by Joe Morton — takes on an explosive case involving two black teenagers (Jojo Smollett, Edward Jay Townsend) who avenge themselves on the white cops who hassle them by mugging a white jogger (Bill Raymond) and falsely claiming he tried to "suck our dicks."
In attempting a top-to-bottom portrait of urban corruption in a two-hour movie, Sayles sometimes overreaches. Using the ravings of a homeless man (the estimable David Strathairn) as a Greek chorus seems more suitable to the classical posturing of an Arthur Miller than the blunt muckraking of a film maverick. But Sayles brings something rare to American movies: a keen sense of purpose. The result is gutsy, knockdown entertainment.
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