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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 8.33%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 8.33%
Total Crap: 8.33%

1 review, 6 user ratings

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Life is Hot in Cracktown
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by Jay Seaver

"Wouldn't want to visit, but the stories can draw you in."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: There's a line in Buddy Giovinazzo's adaptation of his 1993 book of short stories that encapsulates the lives of its characters to a tragic extent; it's a man berating his girlfriend on her priorities: Food, then fix, THEN rent. I may have the first two in the wrong order. Combine that with how nobody in the movie really ever talks about getting clean, and you see the direction Giovinazzo is going: In some places, addiction is just a fact of life, as natural as breathing.

Not everybody in the film is an addict; one of the main characters, Victor Rasuk's Manny, seems to be living pretty clean, though he's at times as strung out as anybody by working two jobs to support a wife (Shannyn Sossamon) who is going stir-crazy with a baby that just will not stop crying. Elsewhere, pre-op transsexual Marybeth (Kerry Washington) and her husband Benny (Desmond Harrington) try to support fellow TS Ridley (Mark Webber) in coming out; ten-year-old Willy (Ridge Canipe) tries to protect his sister Susie (Ariel Winter) from the neglect of their addict mother (Illeana Douglas) while nursing a crush on not-much-older Melody (Elena Franklin), whose mother has brought her into prostitution; and Romeo (Evan Ross) works the streets with a ferocity that belies his sixteen years.

Crack is pervasive in this movie and this world, a supporting character in the same way the term is often applied to distinctive locations, but the film is not about drugs. Marybeth could drink, Willy's mother could gamble, and so on, and their stories wouldn't be acutely different. It's about people who, despite their circumstances and activities that most would disapprove of, still manage to interest us. They may not be heroes, but they are trying to survive as best they can, and Giovinazzo interweaves their stories in such a way to remind us that everybody is their own protagonist, even if they only exist on the periphery of our notice.

He does that in part by peppering the better known actors into smaller roles - you may expect Lara Flynn Boyle to be important, for instance, but blink and you'll miss her. Illeana Douglas and Brandon Routh are there mainly to share scenes with Ridge Canipe, who carries large chunks of the film. Victor Rasuk is arguably the film's lead, but this may be his first large role.

He's good in it, too - reasonable, dedicated, but also being pushed as far as he can be while still barely holding it together. All of the main leads are impressive; Kerry Washington and Desmond Harrington especially make a good team, playing characters with tremendous doubts about themselves and each other, and becoming frightening shells of themselves when on the pipe, but still in love. Ridge Canipe and Evan Ross are both good as boys going about being men in opposite ways - we see every note of worry on Canipe's face as he's in over his head and torn between conflicting responsibilities, while Ross makes Romeo an utter monster; it's not hard to believe that he could command the street just based on how he leads his crew.

Ross is involved in the movie's horrific opening scene - a gang-rape of a girl we briefly believe to be his girlfriend - that was allegedly cut (whether down or out, I'm not sure) for the film's U.S. release, and it does set the tone for the rest of the movie. It's an intense experience, with Giovinazzo and company shooting on genuinely frightening streets, with plenty of despair. There is also, however, plenty of affection. Maybe not quite hope, although as all four main segments reach their crescendo right as the movie reaches its end, I did think that at least one would manage to get things right, eventually. Giovinazzo treats all his characters as fully-dimensional people, though, which makes almost all of them worth rooting for.

Lots of directors have empathy, but not many are able to put a movie together so well as Giovinazzo. Despite the character-laden screenplay, he always manages to focus on the right things; I never wanted to be anywhere other than where he was pointing the camera at the time. That's some very strong storytelling, considering how bleak the view often is.

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originally posted: 07/22/09 04:08:54
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2009 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/03/13 frank wow---great movie 5 stars
8/24/11 AB This movie was terrible!!! Ross was not believable as a tough guy 2 stars
7/09/11 true to life excellent 5 stars
5/01/11 real person Fuck this stupid ass movie. the stupidity of the title is just as stupid as the content 1 stars
9/05/09 Corky Gritty, well-acted, and bleak. 4 stars
9/04/09 John R. Tanner I saw the truth, I saw some of myself at my worst, and the characters are people I know. 5 stars
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  26-Jun-2009 (R)
  DVD: 25-Aug-2009


  DVD: 25-Aug-2009

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