Little Odessa Review

Joshua Shapira (Tim Roth) is a hit man for the organizatsya who's ordered back to Brighton Beach to perform an execution. He must keep his presence there secret or risk becoming the victim of a mobster's vendetta. At the same time, his interactions with his family prove troublesome. His younger brother Reuben (Edward Furlong) resents his absence, but the strength of the siblings' bond is immediately clear. Joshua attempts to see his mother Irina (Vanessa Redgrave), who is dying of a brain tumor. But his father Arkady (Maximilian Schell), a newsstand owner, hates him and prevents him from seeing her. Each reacts according to the simmering violent nature they share. For Arkady--as with all of us--there is a gap between the ideal and the real. He is livid because his older son is a killer, his younger, a delinquent. A devoted family man who loves his wife deeply, he is haunted by his own moral failings but prefers not to think of them. (Though the couple have sex_an agonizingly painful experience for Irina_he has a young mistress on the side.) Meanwhile, Joshua plans the hit he must carry out, renews arelationship with Alla (Moira Kelly), and blackmails his father into allowing him access to his mother. Gray's honest script, like his directing, is best characterized by its patience. He is content to eschew the buildup of tension one might expect; he avoids the usual dramatic arc of the Hollywood film, though Little Odessa never descends into the merely episodic. Gray could have elicited larger-than-life performances from his cast, but instead he courageously and successfully reins them in. Roth (Reservoir Dogs, Vincent and Theo) offers a truly minimalist portrait, often speaking only with his blank eyes. As Joshua, he is jaded, intelligent, and clearly capable of a sudden violent outburst. A lanky and awkward adolescent, Furlong (Terminator 2) brings an understated intensity to his role. But it is Schell (Judgment at Nuremberg, The Man in the Glass Booth) who is truly remarkable. Though not the central character, Arkady is a towering figure plagued by moral dilemma. Like Martin Landau in Woody Allen's most genuinely profound film, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Schell inhabits his character's ethical crisis in a performance that shapes the entire film. While Gray focuses on the subtleties of character development, he does not neglect the picture's aesthetics. Interiors are drab, colors muted: the environment weighs heavily on the characters. The white and black of the snowscape exteriors emphasize the gravity of the moral conflicts. And in the film's denouement, Gray achieves great resonance through the image of sheets drying on clotheslines.Russian pop plays on radios and eerie Slavic choral music is used to great and appropriate effect, but the film's signature feature is its silence: Gray has left open spaces, moments during which his camera is trained on a cast member, content to allow the actor to express his or her emotion rather than recite a speech. We watch the characters think in this movie, and if it's sometimes slow moving, it's nevertheless captivating.

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