Producer-director-scripter Michael Corrente manages to bring freshness to basically derivative material in “Federal Hill,” thanks to a number of excellent performances and some evocative black-and-white images of a world he knows intimately. It’s a modest entry, but an appealing one.
The “Federal Hill” of the title is a district of Providence, R.I., where Corrente grew up. It’s unfamiliar screen territory, but the characters in Corrente’s atmospheric first film are familiar from a score of other pix about young Italo-Americans, from “Mean Streets” on down.
Pic centers on five young men, friends from schooldays, who still hang out together for a regular weekly card game at the home of one of them, Joey, who got married and probably regrets it.
The others are Bobby, a perennial loser; Frank, son of a locally feared gang boss; Nicky, the intelligent, sensitive one; and Ralph, erratic and prone to violence.
Ralph is a burglar who robs and trashes houses in the smart parts of the city; he’s devoted to his sickly father and to Nicky, his best friend.
Nicholas Turturro (brother of actor-director John) is very effective in what has to be termed the Robert De Niro role. Nicky sells dope on the street, and that’s how he meets pretty preppie Wendy, who needs the stuff for her frat party , which Nicky and Ralph later crash (one woman gives Ralph a hilarious brushoff that’s typical of the film’s brash humor).
In one of the film’s best scenes, Nicky (Anthony DeSando) invites Wendy (Libby Langdon) on a date, can’t get the service he wants at an Italian restaurant, so takes her home and cooks her pasta, romancing her during the cooking and ending the meal with a bedroom frolic, inevitably interrupted by Ralph.
The film’s dramatic impetus stems bothfrom the besotted Nicky’s decision to leave the gang and Ralph’s determination to prove to him that, for Wendy, he’s only a pleasant interlude; and from Ralph running afoul of Frank’s gangster father when he tries to help Bobby get desperately needed cash. The climax is a tad conventional, with a public assassination awkwardly staged.
But Corrente, who makes a brief appearance as foreman on a building site, shows talent and has created an interesting bunch of characters whose lives unfold in recognizably day-to-day situations.
The decision to film in black-and-white pays off artistically with some fine imagery shot by Richard Crudo.