Sunday, January 3, 2010

Mikey and Nicky (1976)

This mob film from legendary screenwriter Elaine May looks at the friendship of two low-level gangsters on the night one of them has a hit put out of him. John Cassavetes plays Nicky, whose unwarranted theft makes him a hunted man, and Peter Falk is Mikey, his supportive best friend who puts aside Nicky's arrogant bullshit to try and be there for him. Their relationship is at the heart of this thoroughly 70s film, where events seem to only transpire to remind the audience how small the characters actions and predicaments really are. The female touch is really apparent in the way the film handles the duo's relationships with women: these two tough guys define themselves by how they treat the women in their lives. While Mikey constantly calls his wife to update her on his whereabouts and activities, Nicky has a wife and mistress who both see him for the petty scum that he is, even though they cannot escape his wily assurances that they are what he lives for. And they might be; a late-night visit to his mothers grave hints that he feels as inadequate and unsuccessful as he, truly, is, and is constantly trying to make himself seem like someone important, or even worthwhile, to his women.

Cassavetes was a prototypical leading man who was able to become one of the legends of the industry by defying convention and truly digging to the core of human behavior, and here, his talents are on full display. His Mikey is not the cliched huckster friend a la De Niro in Mean Streets; he is appreciative of Nicky's affections, and understands that he is truly his own worst enemy. Peter Falk, as always, is the fucking man, and turns in a deep, layered performance as the more stable of the two. He is conflicted between his loyalties to his friend and his work, but you'd never know it from how sincerely he cares for Mikey, and how far he would go to protect him. The two were known to be close friends and here, in a movie Cassavetes did not write or direct, their chemistry feels completely believable and natural. Ned Beatty runs around the film as the bumbling assassin looking for Mikey; why is it so many of the best films of the 1970's have Ned Beatty in them? Was his agent the only one not faced out on coke? Either way, he's not as indispensable here as in other films (as to say he doesn't get raped over a log), but he's believable and entertaining nonetheless.

Highly Recommended. Plot does not force feed you details, so it takes some focus, but the dialogue and performances keep you hooked. A reminder of how kickass some of the movies that were coming out in the 70's were.

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