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