1996, R, 96 min. Directed by Nick Gomez. Starring Michael Rapaport, Lili Taylor, Adam Trese, Kevin Corrigan, Angela Featherstone, Tony Danza, Isaac Hayes, Paul Schulze, Saul Stein.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 30, 1998
To Nick Gomez, heaven is 18 holes of green and a blue, blue sky. At least that's one of the striking, heavenly images we get during the course of what is essentially a metaphysical treatise on life, death, and drug-running in modern-day Florida backwaters. Perpetual Brooklyn wiseguy Rapaport tones down his flip style in favor of a cooler, more adult approach as Dante, the longtime head of a crew of heroin dealers working the well-trod streets of some nameless South Florida township. Dante and his girlfriend Micky (Taylor) bide their time managing a smallish clan of young street hoods and trying to have a baby. When their old partner Gabriel (Trese) returns after an extended stretch in the big house, the couple find their pleasant, almost placid routine disrupted by studied revenge and flip-flopping scams. Their stash is poisoned, their exceedingly polite crew is slaughtered one by one, and eventually Gabriel himself comes back to haunt them. And still no baby. Gomez's film plays like a narcoleptic fugue; it's the most melancholy, lassitudinal depiction of small-time hoods yet, filled with sleepy-time fades and ambient emotions that drift in and out of a hazy torpor that recalls nothing so much as the eloquent sparseness of Jim Jarmusch. Still, for a film in which every other scene seems calculated to send you nodding into your popcorn, there's plenty of story going on, unfolding with all the precision of a time-lapse rosebud. illtown is packed with brooding religious imagery. Antagonist Gabriel appears cloaked in white, ascending a staircase, and when asked where he's been, remarks, “I died and went to heaven… they kicked me out.” Dante (and to a lesser extent Micky -- Taylor's role is regrettably small) is on the cusp of wanting out of the drugs & guns game; he's refined his trade and his clientele to a select, upper-crust few. Very few bullets are fired until Gabriel's avenging anti-angel takes up residence on the streets once more, recruiting bloodthirsty teen wreckage to do his dirty work for him. As Dante's friend and longtime associate Cisco, Trese is a wild card -- you're never really sure what he's up to until Gomez spells it out. He looks like a friend, acts like a friend, but in illtown very little is what it seems. That goes for Gomez's spacy, elliptical editing, too. The films drifts back and forth through time as well as various realities, leaving you vaguely groggy and unsure, which mirrors, to a degree, the actions and emotions unfolding before you. It's a post-noir crime story filtered through a gauze of druggy doom.