A Bronx Tale
Directed by Robert De Niro. Starring De Niro, Chazz Palminteri, Lillo Brancato, Francis Capra, Taral Hicks, Kathrine Narducci. (1993)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 1, 1993
With A Bronx Tale, Robert De Niro makes a strong debut as a feature film director. The tendency, at first, is to suspect that De Niro has merely re-submerged himself in the familiar New York City streets that fostered his acting breakthrough in Mean Streets. Though this particular urban landscape and period setting appears to be familiar De Niro territory, A Bronx Tale takes that often-portrayed, Italian-American experience of young manhood and examines it in some unfamiliar ways. The conflict it sets up is familiar enough. A little boy grows into young adulthood torn between the ethics of his working man father and the neighborhood wiseguy. But the resolution is unusual in that it doesn't whip events into a divisive confrontation or toward an either/or precipice. The script, which was adapted by Chazz Palminteri from his one-man stage show, is rich with characters and life lessons. Palminteri also plays the small-time gangster Sonny, whose sense of style and streetwise values provide an irresistible lure for the young Calogero, whom we observe at two points in his life -- in 1960, when he is 9 years old (played by Capra) and in 1968 when he is 17 years old (played by De Niro look-alike Brancato). De Niro also acts in this movie, turning in a finely modulated performance as Calogero's dad, Lorenzo, a bus driver who instills his son with his beliefs that the working man is the real tough guy and that there is nothing sadder than wasted potential. With a lesser actor than De Niro, Lorenzo might easily slip into clichés and simple bromides. As influential forces, De Niro and Palminteri are well-matched, though to the movie's credit it does not set them up in a classic opposition. Both men have wisdom to impart, both men hold sway over Calogero but only Calogero has dominion over himself. Apart from De Niro and Palminteri, most of the other actors here are non-professionals or beginners, all of whom turn in terrific performances (though the female characterizations seem a bit underdeveloped). De Niro's choices as a director all seem prudent and un-showy, designed to draw attention to the characters and the story rather than its technical assemblage and much-lauded star. A Bronx Tale's soundtrack, however, contains a bevy of well-selected period music -- almost too well-selected. Virtually every lyric provides a commentary on the action or playfully tweaks the scene in some way. Yet the constancy of figuring out the meaning of the songs is a distraction, however pleasant. On the whole, A Bronx Tale is an impressive work and it's easy to see why De Niro connected with Palminteri's story.