Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Abel Ferrara
Stars: Christopher Walken, Chris Penn, Benicio Del Toro, Vincent Gallo, Isabella Rossellini, Annabella Sciorra, Paul Hipp
Running Time: 98 minutes.
Few contemporary film-makers depict the shattering violence of New York’s mean streets with quite the same ferocity and intensity as maverick director Abel Ferrara (Fear City, The King Of New York, etc). His latest film has more depth and is much more character-driven than most of his previous films. Written by Ferrara’s regular collaborator, Nicholas St John, The Funeral centers around a criminal family who are shattered by the murder of Johnny (Vincent Gallo), their youngest son. But, accustomed as they are to death and violence, the death of Johnny still hits them hard. While the family struggles to find answers, Johnny’s older brothers Ray (Christopher Walken) and Chez (Chris Penn) seek vengeance. A series of flashbacks explores the nature of the tumultuous relationship between the three brothers, and depicts the events leading up to the murder.
Like most of Ferrara’s previous films, The Funeral is grim stuff; gritty, sleazy, and decidedly unpleasant. Ferrara’s direction is stylish, and he doesn’t shy away from fairly graphic violence and some raw emotions, which suits the confronting nature of the material. But there is a point to it all. The Funeral is concerned with the morality of violence, and the ties that bind a family together. Ferrara and regular cinematographer Ken Kelsch deliberately use gloomy lighting and darkened interiors to great effect, creating an unsettling mood.
Ferrara has assembled a strong cast to flesh out his characters. Ferrara always brings out the best in Walken, who is clearly a favorite of the director’s. Walken seems far more restrained on this outing, although he still manages to colour his performance with a number of his usual mannerisms. Penn is extraordinarily volatile and explosive as Chez, the son who seems to have inherited his father’s madness, and he brings an unnerving edge to his powerful scenes.
Annabella Sciorra (who also co-produced the film) and Isabella Rossellini have little to do as the long-suffering wives of Ray and Chez, although their roles illustrate perfectly the secondary role that women play in this criminal fraternity, in which family concerns and business matters are clearly defined and quite separate.