City of Hope

1991, R, 129 min. Directed by John Sayles. Starring Vincent Spano, Joe Morton, Barbara Williams, Maggie Renzi, Kevin Tighe, Tony Lo Bianco, John Sayles.

REVIEWED By Kathleen Maher, Fri., Oct. 25, 1991

City of Hope opens with a shot on Spano's pretty vacant face to give us an idea of where we'll be visiting for the next couple of hours. We know this place, it's blasted and under siege by economic forces from the outside and corruption from the inside. Sayles deftly weaves a handful of story lines following Spano, “the only fuck stupid enough to quit a no-show job”; his father, Lo Bianco, a contractor who's made so many corrupt deals with the union, the mob, the city and big money developers that he's no longer his own man let alone his own boss; Morton, a city councilmember struggling with his ideals, beliefs and relative political impotence; and Williams, a young mother going to school, working, and taking care of her profoundly retarded son. There are many, many others. This town has an ecology all its own; it lives and breathes. A deal cannot made with the sleazy body shop arsonist (Sayles) on one end of town that is not felt over in the projects where the developers hope to do a little slash and burn urban renewal. And yet, where there's life, there's hope. Spano is the focus of the film. He may be drunk, high, and bored at the start of the film, but he reaches for salvation. He's a loser betting on the Angels at the start of the film, but he's also a hopeless romantic finding hope in an angel, Angela, the young mother. It may look as if the cards are stacked against this town, a place that only the corrupt, political machine mayor could call “The City of Hope” with a straight face. But there are characters like Morton's councilman, project mothers who teach their children to tell the truth, and fathers who can be saved by the love of their sons, that make the mayor's words true. The early part of the film sets up a marvelous rush of recogniton as the disparate threads Sayles is weaving begin to interconnect. As the focus tightens, some of the fun of the puzzle is lost. For the most part Sayles is able to replace it with our sympathy for these characters. City of Hope may be a little relentless on its way to the punchline -- it makes us earn it -- but it gives us something to take home with us: hope.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More John Sayles
Unknown Territory
Unknown Territory
Writer-director John Sayles on why he returned to the border for his latest film, 'Go for Sisters'

Robert Faires, Dec. 6, 2013

Page Two: In the Moment, Part 2
Page Two: In the Moment, Part 2
A fascinating lesson in history

Louis Black, July 29, 2011

More John Sayles
Sayles Talk
Sayles Talk
More on the making of 'Go for Sisters' from John Sayles

Robert Faires, Dec. 7, 2013

SXSW: Pushing the Envelope With People of Letters
SXSW: Pushing the Envelope With People of Letters
The Australian literary event revives two dying arts

Richard Whittaker, March 13, 2013

More John Sayles Films
Go for Sisters
John Sayles' new film, which stars Edward James Olmos and LisaGay Hamilton, is the indie film icon's best work in years.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Dec. 6, 2013

Honeydripper
John Sayles’ new drama is about life in a destitute African-American cotton-farming town in Jim Crow-era Alabama and the music that gave the region its mythology.

Josh Rosenblatt, Feb. 1, 2008

More by Kathleen Maher
Incident at Oglala
British filmmaker Apted makes a carefully reasoned, yet passionate statement about the legal system that has ensnared American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier.

July 10, 1992

Titicut Follies
Wiseman filmed conditions in the Bridgeport Mental Hospital with a bare minimum of crew and equipment, which resulted in a devastatingly candid view of life behind the high walls of a state mental hospital for the criminally insane.

July 10, 1992

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

City of Hope, John Sayles, Vincent Spano, Joe Morton, Barbara Williams, Maggie Renzi, Kevin Tighe, Tony Lo Bianco, John Sayles

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle