Picks and Pans Review: Little Odessa
Sweet to know, isn't it, that smalltime mobsters and hoods suffer the same familial pangs as schoolteachers, grocery clerks and civil engineers? Roth, a hit man with the Russian mafia, returns to his Jewish émigré neighborhood in Brighton Beach to rub out an Iranian jeweler behind on his payments, but he also has a sentimental mission. He visits his terminally ill mother (Redgrave), even though the family considers him persona non grata, and his father (Schell) promptly sees him to the door. Roth persists though. He bonds, as best as his leather-jacketed sullenness will allow, with his kid brother (Furlong, America's disaffected teen supreme). As you might guess, the family does not seek counseling.
Writer-director James Gray, who's all of 26, definitely knows how to make a movie. Little Odessa is fine to look at, wintry and bleak in a way that's poetic without ever becoming merely pretty. But this isn't the same as setting up a story so that there's an emotional pay-off or at least one that makes sense: When the movie veered off into tragedy, I nearly started laughing.
Casting so many heavyweight actors also may have been a mistake. Schell and Redgrave are both oppressively strong. Redgrave, in particular, manages to strangle the life out of her every scene. If you want to see an actress overact a nap, this is your movie. (R)