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Summer of Sam

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Summer of Sam

Starring: Adrien Brody, John Leguizamo
Director: Spike Lee
Rated: R
RunTime: 142 Minutes
Release Date: July 1999
Genres: Drama, Suspense

Review by MrBrown
4 stars out of 4

"There are many stories to be told in the naked city; this is just one." This line, which is uttered during the conclusion of _Summer_of_Sam_, could not better sum up Spike Lee's terrific film. The film's title does refer to the serial killer Son of Sam, but, as that line says, that is just one of the many stories followed in the film. More than anything else, _Summer_of_Sam_ is a portrait of its chosen time period, the hot New York summer of 1977. And what a vivid portrait it is.

Son of Sam (played by Michael Badalucco, also notoriously known as "the 44-caliber killer" for his weapon of choice, plays a prominent role in the film, but not in the way one would expect. While a few of his murders are depicted in horrifyingly bloody detail and his reign of terror provides the film with its time frame, _Summer_of_Sam_ is concerned less with him than his psychological effect on people in New York City, namely the Bronx. Films dealing with serial killers often tackle this angle, but usually the people in question are either victims' families or the cops investigating the crimes. The characters whose lives are examined in _Summer_of_Sam_ have no direct ties to the killer nor his activities, but they are all profoundly affected by them.

The effects, of course, widely vary with the person. Dionna (Mira Sorvino) more or less tries to live life as she always has even though she fits the common victim's demographic of "woman with shoulder-length brown hair." Her husband Vinny (John Leguizamo), on the other hand, fears that the killer has seen him during one of his many extramarital trysts and is thus a target. While not necessarily a reaction to Son of Sam, Vinny's old friend Ritchie (Adrien Brody) has undergone a radical personality change, embracing the anarchic spirit of punk rock, which he spreads to old friend and eventual lover Ruby (Jennifer Esposito).

These are just the starting points for these characters; as the film and Son of Sam's killing spree progresses, their relationships and personalities undergo drastic shifts. While Vinny's less-than-blissful marriage to Dionna is given perhaps the most screen time, the focal relationship is between Vinny and Ritchie, whose deviant behavior leads people to erroneously suspect him of wrongdoing. The actors give superb work, and in the case of Brody and especially Leguizamo (of whom, I must admit, I have never been a fan), career-best work, investing these often unlikable characters with enough humanity to command our sympathies.

By extension, praise goes to Lee and his writing collaborators Victor Colicchio and Michael Imperioli, who do a deft job of weaving the fact-based stream of events surrounding Son of Sam with the fictional storylines they have created. All the characters were going to do what they do regardless, but, as depicted by Lee and the writers, being in such extreme circumstances heightens the tension and thus gives them a push toward more extreme actions. Even more impressive is how the story is convincingly manipulated to spin around the entire picture of the culture at the time, from the liberating abandon of punk to disco's spirit of limitless pleasure.

_Summer_of_Sam_ ultimately belongs to Lee, who makes nary a false move here. He has always been a great creator of images, and the ones he presents here make a powerful impact. One memorable montage sequence scored to "Teenage Wasteland" is a marvel of both freedom (in its driving energy) and control (in economically advancing the story and distilling the society's mood of the moment).

The visceral impact comes second to the film's emotional power, which hits hard by film's end. There are no easy answers nor tidy resolutions, which is just as well. _Summer_of_Sam_ may strike some as unsatisfying in that sense, but that is what is what makes it such a convincing slice of ordinary lives during an extraordinary time.

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