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A Bronx Tale

A Bronx Tale
Robert De Niro made an impressive directorial debut with 1993's A Bronx Tale, an atmospheric and ferocious story of life in the mob that on the surface does bear some resemblance to a certain 1990 Martin Scorsese epic, but establishes its own credentials with its own look at a lifestyle that is so often glamorized, but is also revealed here for exactly what it is, warts and all.

The story opens in the Bronx in 1960 where a 9-year old kid named Calogero, the son of a local bus driver (De Niro), is the sole witness to a murder committed by Calogero's secret hero, Sonny (Chazz Paminteri). The police show up at the boy's house a minute later but the boy refuses to finger Sonny and it is not long before a relationship develops between Sonny and Calogero, who Sonny renames "C" that C's dad is not happy about at all.

The story flashes forward eight years where a 17 year old C is not working directly for Sonny but is under the man's influence, though he is hanging with all the wrong people. A battle between Sonny and C's father ensues for the boy's soul while C's attraction to a pretty black girl (Taral Hicks) fuels the racial tension in the already intense Bronx neighborhood.

Chazz Palminteri not only plays Sonny, but also adapted the screenplay for this film, which is actually based on a play that Palminteri wrote, something I have difficulty wrapping my head around because I find it difficult picturing the story presented here on a proscenium stage, but if it was, Palminteri and De Niro do a beautiful job of opening up the story because there is nothing that happens on this screen that even hints at "photographed stage play"...this is cinema, riveting and engaging cinema, filled with tension, laughter, and warmth.

Yes, there are some similarities to Goodfellas here that cannot be denied...the Chez Bippy bar in this film plays the same role that the cab stand in Goodfellas played and the relationship that develops Sonny and C does resemble the relationship between Henry Hill and Paulie in Goodfellas, but in Scorsese's film, Henry's father is out of the story ten minutes in the film, but in this film, C's father remains center stage, never giving up in his quest to shield his son from the dangers of Sonny's life. Loved the scene where C is invited to go to a big boxing match by both men and because he has better seats, he invites C to sit with him instead of sitting with his father. This scene was one of De Niro's strongest moments in the story.

Speaking of De Niro, on top of his skillful and imaginative directorial eye, it was great to see him cast against type as the work a day father trying to save his son from a life that scared him instead of the wiseguy we usually see from him. Palminterri lights up the screen as Sonny and Francis Capra and Lillo Brancata were both impressive as the younger and older C, respectively. Bronx in the 1960's is lovingly recreated here, but I swear if I hear Dean Martin's "Ain't it a Kick in the Head" in one more mob movie, I'm going to lose it. A small nitpick regarding a bold and explosive piece of film making. Believe it or not, the piece actually returned to the Broadway stage as a musical in 2016 and, as of this date, still running on Broadway.