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Festivale Spring 1997

Albino Alligator

Movie still, Gary Sinise in Albino Alligator, Festivale film review; albino3.jpg - 11546 Bytes

Before I saw this film my subconscious mind was already on the job. I ate a crocodile pie for dinner and it was only halfway through the pastry that I made the connection consciously between the repast and the movie. The human mind is a strange thing.

This flick is Kevin (Keyser Soze) Spacey's directorial debut and he's been very smart in picking it. Apart from some scenes on the streets of New Orleans, the film is a single-set piece in Dino's Last Chance Bar. This gives Spacey the chance to control the space (sic) and to concentrate on the characters of this character-driven narrative. And he does it well, until the end.

Movie still, Matt Dillon in Albino Alligator, Festivale film review; albino5.jpg - 10739 Bytes The basic premise of this film is "What are you willing to sacrifice to survive?" Dova (Dillon), Milo (Sinese) and Law (William Fichtner playing the creepiest good ol' boy since Mitchum in Cape Fear) are minor crims who, after botching a factory robbery flee the scene and partly due to their own dumbness and the stupidity of the Feds, get mistaken for a gun-runner. After a car accident they hole up in Dino's basement bar - an unrenovated speakeasy with antique jukebox, cigarette machine and tough-guy movie posters, hold the denizens hostage and find themselves surrounded by SWAT teams and television crews.

The hostages are a shopworn barmaid Janet (Dunaway), Danny (Skeet Ulrich), Jack (John Spencer from LA Law), Guy (Viggo Mortensen) and Dino (M. Emmett Walsh). The head cop outside is (G.D. Browning) Joe Mantegna who doesn't look at all like the kind of person whose name is Browning.

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There's a thing in good movies called "rate of revelation". That is, the rate at which what's really going on is revealed to the audience. Albino Alligator has a great rate of revelation that steers the plot in not always expected directions with only a minimum of coincidence and plot-holes.

It's a good script. Spacey's direction is interesting and competent. The actors, with the exception of Matt Dillon are great. It's Dunaway's best role since Barfly. She has her own agendas and has seen pretty much everything. Sinese, who is looking more and more like Roger Corman, gives a very well modulated performance with an understated depth that impressed me and Fichtner is great in a role that takes him light years away from his usual likeable nerds.

But I have a problem with Dillon. He doesn't engage as a character. He's a generic thug who's sort of intelligent but somewhat clueless. There's nothing in or behind his eyes. All he has is the voice and the slightly craggy underprivileged looks and a way of wrinkling his forehead.

But the twist ending, which should punch hard, seems a little soft. The horror isn't where it should be. Spacey focuses on the wrong character. That's a let down but not enough to unbalance the rest of this competent, dark noir movie.

see also: Ali's review, for cast and crew credits.
Terry Frost

September, 1997

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