Dir: Nick Gomez
97 min., 35mm, 1:1.85, Color, EP
Produktion: The Shooting Gallery. Buch: Nick Gomez, nach dem Roman ,Cocain Kids' von Terry Williams. Kamera: Jim Denault. Ausstattung: Susan Bolles. Ton: Jeff Kushner. Musik: Brian Keane. Schnitt: Tracy Granger. Ausführende Produzenten: Larry Meistrich, Donald C. Carter.
Darsteller: Michael Rapaport (Dante), Lili Taylor (Mickey), Kevin Corrigan (Cisco), Adam Trese, Isaac Hayes, Tony Danza.
Uraufführung: 7. September 1996, Toronto Film Festival.
Weltvertrieb: Ken Kamins - International Creative Management, 8942 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211, USA. Tel.: (1-310) 550 4237, (1-310) 550 4100.
Fri 14.02. 13:30 Kino 7 im Zoo Palast Fri 14.02. 21:30 Delphi Sat 15.02. 12:30 Arsenal Sun 16.02. 22:15 Akademie der Künste Fri 21.02. 19:00 Babylon
Their troubles are complicated by the return of an old business partner just released from jail. Out for revenge, he slowly poisons Dante's operation with the help of a crooked cop. With the assistance of his loyal henchman, Dante uncovers the plot, leading to a game of cat and mouse on the mean streets of Miami, where the action is dangerous and intense.
Like a fata morgana, Nick Gomez's illtown shimmers and drifts across the screen. A tale of young Florida smack dealers who haunt one another's waking dreams like the ghosts they already are, its underwater rhythms might seem far removed from the frantic pace of Gomez's first feature, Laws of Gravity. The effect, however, is just as kinetic. Gomez's films lodge themselves in your solar plexus as much as your mind.
I remember getting on the subway after a 1992 New Directors screening of Laws of Gravity and feeling as if I were still inside the movie I'd just seen and that everyone around me was inside it too. illtown evoked similar feelings, although I've seen only a rough cut, and on video to boot. (...)
"We went to Florida to do a Hong Kong thriller, but we didn't have enough money, so we decided to do some experimentation," says Gomez. One can see the influence of Takeshi Kitano's Sonatine and Larry Clark's Kids as well as the whole Chinese ghost genre. Isolated moments of daily life are plunked down in a fractured time frame where prophecy and memory seem interchangeable. Under the glaring Florida sun or the poisonous nightime glow of street lamps and neon, time future and time past face off in one extended present moment. (The rough-edged, lyrical cinematography is by Jim Denault, who also put his mark on Nadja and River of Grass.)
Headed by Michael Rapaport, Adam Trese, Kevon Corrigan, and Lili Taylor, the cast is stunning across the board. Gomez used schoolkids he found in Florida to play the smaller roles, and, like the leading actors, they are at once subdued and utterly electric - not an easy combination to pull off. Particularly memorable are two baby-faced boys playing low-level dealers and a red-haired kid who plays Taylor's deaf-mute younger brother. ("He's not really deaf, but he had learned sign language in high school just because he was interested," says Gomez, suggesting the serendipity at work in the best movies.)
"We learned so much about how to work from Lili," says Gomez. "She brought Michael up to another level. Michael is a movie star but he never had the opportunity to show it before."
Indeed, Rapaport has a gravity here that's completely surprising. As his nemesis and doppelgänger, Trese resembles one of Cocteau's fallen angels, an effect heightened by the fact that he makes most of his entrances and exits via dissolve. Taylor, who plays Rapaport's wife, hasn't all that much to do, but she seems more mature than in any of her previous films; and Corrigan, as Rapaport's sidekick, again shows that he can pack more fast changes into a single line than any other American actor.
Like Wong Kar-Wai, Gomez treats his actors with a tenderness that's palpable on screen, and that, combined with his talent for depicting all manner of violence enacted on bodies that bleed, makes one's heart and stomach turn over at the same time. The tenderness is tied to an omnipresent sense of mortality that's an appropriate, but all too rare, attribute of film directors (film being a medium populated by specters).
illtown, Gomez says, comes out of the dark place in which he found himself after making his second feature, New Jersey Drive. He felt that he'd lost control of New Jersey Drive during production, and he also was disappointed by the way it was released. Though far more costly than illtown, New Jersey Drive didn't have a budget sufficient for the endless car chases Gomez had envisioned.
"The mood and tempo of illtown express what I felt like going into it. I had to make it to come out the other end. It was incredibly hard - now I'm sitting in the mixing studio 14 hours a day - but it was really satisfying working on a more intimate scale again." Amy Taubin, in: Village Voice, September 10th, 1996
(...) Sounds like standard streets/guns/drugs/thugs fare, doesn't it? Don't be fooled. In ILLTOWN, director Nick Gomez transmutes genre conventions with masterful stylishness. Unusual for the genre, characterization is complex and intriguing, with a beautiful young deaf brother in a signed subplot, and Mickey's pregnancy integrated into the progress of the story.
Particularly in relation to the central characters' development, the direction's sensitivity is stunning, as are the intelligent, low-key lead performances. The narrative's structure combines formalism (the conclusion book-ending the beginning of the film) with a disjunctive editing style that at times goes for fast-paced bare-bones narrative and at others lingers to create moody ambience or moments of non-verbal emotion.
The mise-en-scène juxtaposes stylized, static compositions with Gomez's trademark vérité action sequences. Every frame bears the certainty of a filmmaker working with flair and thoughtful intelligence, buttressed by a foundation of solid cinematic conception. It all adds up to an extremely fine piece of work.
(Kay Armatage, Catalogue of the Film Festival Toronto 1996)
(...) Gomez's abiding concern remains the redemption of the antisocial (smalltime crooks, car thieves, heroin dealers); it's hard to think of a contemporary American filmmaker who's better at capturing the grace and humor of outlaw camaraderie and group bonding, and their tense accommodation with family and law (whether police or the laws of human cause and effect). But where the first two films work through these concerns within consciously social dynamics, illtown projects them inward to describe an intangible, charged psychic terrain. A film of looks and silences, offbeat exchanges, unexplained gestures and abrupt explosions of violence. (...)
In illtown, bad is superficially routed by worse: the twisted junkie relationship of Gabriel and Lilly is a warped mirror image of Dante and Mickey's soothing domesticity and conscience-troubled humanity; Gabriel's crew of remorseless teen assassins, a chilling new breed of sociopathy far removed from Dante's mild trio of slightly lost but mutually loyal teen dealers. But the transcendent sentiment of the graffiti inside the derelict building at the film's beginning - ,The love that never dies', found, Gomez swears, at the location - refers less to heroin, which reclaims both Gabriel and Dante, than to the redemption in Dante and Mickey's love for each other, and in the love Cisco latterly recalls in a long, unexpected, personal anecdote. What happens on the material plane becomes secondary, something already signaled by Gomez's abstracted, poetic style. The half-playful scattering of spiritual iconography, religious allusions, and moments of pregnant unspoken meaning may seem like straining for significance to some, but it's an intriguing and appealing stratagem for bypassing the dead end of the current, nearly exhausted cycle of the genre - and it works. As Dante's police contact/spiritual advisor observes, "You'll never find what you are looking for if you're looking for an easy way out."
(Film Comment, New York, September/October, New York 1996)
Nick Gomez was born in 1963 in Sommerville, Massachusetts. He left home and school at age fifteen, came into conflict with the law and took odd jobs to make ends meet. He went to live in London for a year, returned to school, graduated and enrolled at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. In 1983 he moved to New York. He edited Hal Hartley's film Trust and directed his first feature film in 1992.
1988: No Picnic. 1991: Wild Kingdom. 1992: Laws of Gravity (Forum 1993). 1995: New Jersey Drive. 1996: illtown
© 1997 by International Forum of New Cinema. All rights reserved.