John Sayles’ ambitious, wide-ranging study of corruption and community in a small Eastern city has as many parallel plots and characters as Hill Street Blues, while at the same time having a richness of theme and specificity of vision more common to serious cinema.
Picture hinges on the oppposite directions of two characters: Nick (Vincent Spano), disillusioned son of a well-connected builder, who has easy access to the system but only wants out of it, and Wynn (Joe Morton), a young black city councilman who’s determined to work within the system.
Nick soon gets involved in a robbery to get money to pay off his gambling debts. Meanwhile he’s starting a romance with an old high school classmate Angela (Barbara Williams), which draws the wrath of her mad-dog ex-husband and cop (Anthony John Denison). Then a racial crisis erupts when two black kids attack a white college teacher.
For much of the film, the restlessness of focus seems a liability. But when the camera stops long enough to put two characters together one-on-one, dialog and emotional connection emerge.