The Funeral

Abel Ferrara continues to make dark, brutal, punishing movies that piss people off. Obviously, the director of Bad Lieutenant and King of New York is doing something right. The Funeral isn't up to those twin Ferrara peaks, but this Depression-era crime drama, with a script by Nicholas St. John, has some of the same jangling tension. When racketeer Johnny Tempio (Vincent Gallo) is shot down after seeing Humphrey Bogart in The Petrified Forest at a movie house, his family joins his fiancee, Helen (Gretchen Mol), to mourn at the coffin. Johnny's two brothers, Ray (Christopher Walken) and Chez (Chris Penn), search for the killer. A rival hood, Gaspare (a superb Benicio Del Toro), is the obvious suspect in a film that works hard to dodge the obvious.

Ferrara is less interested in who done it than why they done it. Flashbacks reveal the three Tempio brothers, raised in savagery by a sadistic father, in emotional conflict. Johnny wanted out of the crime game to pursue leftist politics. Ray, married to the canny Jeanette (Annabella Sciotra), hides his anger. Chez, married to the fearful Clara (Isabella Rossellini), can't control his. In a film of strong performances, Penn's is the standout. He finds the madness in Chez that is the key to Ferrara's tale of blood ties that choke off compassion and hope.

From The Archives Issue 215: June 17, 1976