1992, R, 117 min. Directed by John Turturro. Starring John Turturro, Michael Badalucco, Carl Capotorto, Katherine Borowitz, Ellen Barkin, John Amos.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 30, 1993
Set in the racial melting pot of Queens, New York in 1954, Turturro's autobiographical tale is loosely based on the life of his father, a first-generation Italian-American immigrant whose guiding passions in life were his carpentry skills and the value of a job well-done. As the film opens, we find Mac (Turturro) at his father's wake. The old man has succeeded in his lifelong task of instilling in his son the self-effacing virtues of hard work, and the honest pride of a dedicated craftsman. Mac and his brothers (Badalucco and Capotorto) work for a singularly unpleasant foreman, a “cut corners/save money” kind of guy whose constant harangues to do the job his way infuriate Mac and the other men on the site, until one day, raging, Mac single-handedly tears down an improperly designed wall and begins to rebuild it the right way. (Remembering the admonitions of his father, he thinks, “There are two ways to do something: my way and the right way. And they're the same thing.”) While his passion gets him canned on the spot, Mac soon decides to go into business for himself, with the help of his brothers and the life savings of his resolute Jewish girlfriend (Borowitz). Before long, Mac and company have four new houses up (situated, unfortunately, on a tract of land bordered on one side by an asylum, and on the other, downwind from a cow pasture), and the pressure to get them sold off ends up being so divisive, that his brothers decide to move out and on with their lives. As a meditation on the lost art of true craftsmanship and the 1950s Italian-American experience, Mac is a rather somber piece of filmmaking: most of the laughs here arise out of the sheer frustration toward the task at hand. Turturro, in his directing debut, borrows heavily from friends Joel and Ethan Coen -- a painfully extended fight sequence midway through the film is reminiscent of the Coen's Miller's Crossing, and Turturro's constant use of fluid camera motions and extremely low angle shots recalls other Coen films as well -- but that's hardly a bad thing. It's a visceral, tough, passionate film, and, dedicated to Turturro's father who passed away five years ago, it's a wonderfully moving eulogy, not only to the man himself, but also to a way of life that seems to have vanished completely from the American dream.