Critical Writings -> Academic Journals -> Newpaper Articles & Reviews > Film

Articles and Reviews: FILM

Harold Becker - City Hall

One morning in New York there’s a shoot-out between a hero cop and a drug dealer, and a stray bullet kills a six year old black child. The cop dies too, and his police pension is on the line because of a suspicion that he was on the take. Marybeth Cogan (Bridget Fonda) is the attorney trying to clear his name, and get him his pension so that his widow can feed their kids. The gangster escapes, but gets rubbed out later by his own, after he has agreed to help Cogan and the widow to get justice for the deceased lawman.




The whole mess lands at the door of City Hall, where Mayor John Pappas (Al Pacino) and his right-hand man Deputy Mayor Kevin Calhoun (John Cusack) have to deal with it. Pappas is worried that the child’s death and the bribery scandal will have a detrimental affect on his bid for the Presidency. The relationship between Pappas and Calhoun is that of veteran politician to young idealist. To Calhoun life is black and white, to Pappas there are only various shades of grey. Pappas knows everything involves a trade-off, it’s roundabouts and swings, and to do some good you’ve got to compromise along the way. There are more sub-plots thrown in, but that’s the basic story.
What makes City Hall such an uninspiring thriller is precisely the lack of a clearly defined battle between Good and Evil, as with Seven, for example. There’s not much action, and most of the film is spent probing the morality of Machiavellian political policies, interesting in itself, but dull to watch.
City Hall reunites director Harold Becker with Pacino, with whom he made Sea of Love. Becker was also responsible for the worthwhile Malice, but here he seems to have lost his touch. It is axiomatic that Pacino is watchable in just about anything (his speech at the child’s funeral is an actor’s dream), and there are solid performances from Fonda and Cusack. But they can’t save what is a fairly lack-lustre film.
City Hall isn’t actively bad, it’s just not very good. Okay on a wet afternoon, if you’ve seen all the great movies on release at the moment.

First published in The Big Issues













Critical Writings
Travel Writings