Back in 1982, Barry Levinson made a smashing debut as a writer-director with Diner. Set in his hometown of Baltimore, the film captured what it was like for a bunch of guys who took pride in growing up there and still dreamed of getting out. Neighborhood plays an equally central role in Federal Hill, an auspicious, robustly entertaining launch for writer-director Michael Corrente. Shot in black and white on Corrente’s turf – the Italian, blue-collar section of Providence, R.I., known as Federal Hill – the film exudes and authenticity that makes a tired topic (coming of age) resonate with fresh humor and insight
The boys in Levinson’s Diner never knew anything firsthand like the mob world of drugs, gambling and theft that nurtured Ralph (Nicholas Turturro), Nicky (Anthony De Sando) and their hotheaded pals. But when Nicky falls for wealthy Wendy (Libby Langdon), a senior at nearby Brown University, he starts thinking life has other possibilities. The relationship causes a rift between the friends; Ralph thinks Wendy is slumming for a taste of street dick. In the film’s comic high point, Nicky tries to show off to Wendy’s parents at a trendy local restaurant. He fools no one. Neither does Ralph, who misguidedly helps a friend pay off a loan shark by robbing the mob bosses. The capo (Frank Vincent) is soon shouting for blood.
Though the tragic climax smacks of melodramatic contrivance, Corrente and a dynamite cast – De Sando and Langdon are particularly fine – home in on the details that give Federal Hill a flavor all its own and a unique ring of truth.