Director: Brian Caunter
By Marilyn Ferdinand
On Sunday, as the hubby and I were on our way into the AMC theatre for the day’s films, I spotted a weathered, red-haired man standing on the sunshine-filled sidewalk talking to some people. “Isn’t that the guy we saw last night in Chicago Overcoat, the detective?” I asked. Sure enough, it was. We waited patiently for said actor—Danny Goldring—to finish his conversation and then went up to him and thanked him for a great evening. He commented on how young and talented the filmmakers are. “When he hits 30, they’ll have to kick him out. Over the hill,” the veteran actor joked.
A homegrown production shot on the streets of Chicago, Chicago Overcoat is one of the hottest tickets at the festival. The advance word must have been out that this neat crime drama has all the goods. Chicago Overcoat is an amazingly professional directing debut for Brian Caunter, with assured handling of both actors and cameras, amazing cinematography and location choices, and great pacing. But it’s also clearly an homage of the neophyte filmmakers not to the crime capers of old, but rather to Quentin Tarantino. The hardboiled screenplay has an ironic, almost kitschy feel without taking much away from the reality of the characters, and it’s hard to ignore how much the lead character’s girlfriend in her synthetic black wig looks like Uma Thurman’s character in Pulp Fiction. I hope Thurman, who is receiving a Career Achievement Award from CIFF, stops by to see this small tribute to her.
The film opens in Cook County Jail, where mob boss Stefano D’Agnostino (Armand Assante) is being held for trial on various racketeering charges. He orders his lawyer to have the witnesses silenced. D’Agnostino’s second in command, Lorenzo Galante (Mike Starr), reluctantly gives the job to 65-year-old mob soldier Lou Marazano (Frank Vincent), who has been itching to make some real money after spending 20 years performing small-time strong-arm jobs.
If it’s possible for someone to be nostalgic for contract murder, then Lou is. In fact, however, he’s nostalgic for the entire way of life that is disappearing among the 31st Street Crew of mobsters he calls his family. Respect, it seems, is sorely lacking. Particularly for him. This chance will help him repair his reputation, help his divorced daughter Angela (Gina D’Ercoli) make a new start with his grandson Michael (Robert Gerdisch) apart from his insolent ex-son-in-law Joey (Mark Vallarta), and get him to Las Vegas for a comfortable retirement.
Lou’s first hit is a cinch. The second, too, except that Lou returns to an old habit of his—sending flowers to the widow of the man he’s just killed. The return of the “Flower Man” has Det. Ralph Maloney (Goldring) hot on his trail, beginning at the shop where the flowers came from. He picks Lou up for questioning. Although he’s let go for lack of material evidence, the Cicero boys decide Lou’s a liability and order his death. You don’t want to trap an old dog with his own tricks, however. Lou’s seen it all, played every part (“I’ve been the friend” who suckers the victim), and he’s not going down—not to the cops and not for his family. “Fuck that! I’m going to Vegas!” But will he be able to stay one step ahead of the many people who want to take him down?
Chicago Overcoat is a fast-paced cops-and-mobsters film that gets a bit of star power from brief appearances by Assante and Stacy Keach, who took a day off his gig at the Goodman Theatre playing King Lear to shoot a short scene as a retired cop who worked on some of the “Flower Man” hits. But it is the yeoman actors playing yeoman mobsters and cops who fill the screen with anger, regret, petty politics, and longing that propel this procedural beyond caricature. Lou’s long-suffering girlfriend Lorraine (Kathrine Narducci) hopes Lou will see her as more than a shack-up and alibi, but seems to reach her last straw; odds are, though, that she’ll still be pining for him long after he’s gone. Goldring plays an obsessed cop with equal amounts of verve and defeat. His partner, Eliot (Barret Walz), is young, handsome, and in over his head. They make a perfect team.
But it is Frank Vincent as the cold-blooded killer who’s afraid his daughter will find out he let her son hold his tommy gun who moves like a well-oiled pistol through this film, driving the action, committing to acts of sudden violence that shock and delight us, remaining himself—a family man to his real family and a hard-headed pragmatist who kisses the past good-bye the way any self-respecting Sicilian mobster would. He narrates the film with a Mike Hammer sort of patois that is sometimes too glib, but always working to convince. I was especially tickled by a line Lou has when he meets an old friend who has baited the trap for his execution. They’re talking about the old days, and his friend tells him he hasn’t been the same since his wife split. “Maybe I should talk to someone,” says Lou in a perfect send-up of Tony Soprano, “let it all out.” Genius.
I don’t know if there are any tickets left for the last screening of this wild ride of a movie. I’d be very surprised if it didn’t get a DVD release. Look for it. You’ll have a great time. l