Directed by Robert M. Young. Starring Edward James Olmos, Maria Conchita Alonso, Arie Verveen, Steven Schub, Bitty Schram. (1996, R, 109 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 8, 1996
Caught is a touching little movie whose gifts are best revealed by the experience of watching it than hearing about it. Directed by the legendary former documentarian Robert M. Young (One-Trick Pony, The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, Dominick and Eugene), Caught is a tight ensemble work in which the subtlety of the interactions between the characters and the intimacy with which the story is told are responsible for the film's lingering impressions. The story begins as a handsome young drifter named Nick (Verveen) seeks momentary refuge from the cops in the downtown Jersey City fish store owned by married couple Joe (Olmos) and Betty (Alonso). They give him food, then a job in the store, and then the room that belonged to their son Danny (Schub), who is trying to succeed in Hollywood as a stand-up comic. Never intending to stay long, Nick really never gets around to leaving and, soon, the group dynamics reach a point of inescapability. Joe teaches Nick the tricks of the fish trade and more or less adopts him as his “first mate”; Betty and Nick embark on a recklessly torrid affair that awakens something in each of them. It's a Postman Rings Twice kind of situation that turns nastily Oedipal with the surprise return of Danny -- with wife and son in tow. Now displaced within the family and failing miserably as a comic (one of his greatest successes is being a Star Search reject), Danny grows ever more spiteful and violent. As Danny, Schub creates a character almost too odious to behold; he's clearly someone whom only a mother could love. Alonso and Olmos deliver evocative performances as the long-married couple who, despite their enduring affection, have lost touch with each other. Newcomer Verveen is quite a discovery, with a brooding but sensual presence and disarming inscrutability. Young keeps his camera focused tightly on his players. In his universe, everyone seems caught in the camera's stare. The overall structure of the story is a bit too predictably schematic and certain aspects of the story strain believability. The lovers are just a tad too flagrant for any husband in the next room to remain as oblivious as Joe does, and Betty seems too well-preserved for a woman of her age who has spent her entire adult life working in a fish store. However, in the end, Caught manages to transcend its awkward moments to create a thoroughly compelling tale of ordinary people caught up in the complications of life.