Vet legit director Anthony Caldarella’s feature directorial debut, “My Brother Jack,” is a solid, if less than inspired, history of one Italian-American family’s desperate struggle to deal with the tragic consequences of heroin addiction. Distinguished by a tremendous performance from Italian actor Marco Leonardi (“Cinema Paradiso”) as Jack Casale, whose insatiable appetite for hard drugs causes his family endless grief, pic is reasonably engrossing, but its lack of anything new to say on this well-worn subject will limit commercial potential.
The story covers well over a decade in the life of the Casale clan, beginning with their arrival in New York’s Lower East Side from Sicily in the early 1950s. Jack is first seen as an aspiring teen magician, wowing his younger brother Joey (Freddy Capra). Tale then jumps forward to 1963, when Jack is already driving his mother, Rose (Karen Colonna Kondazian), and brothers nuts with his drug-induced behavior.
The other siblings are much better adjusted than Jack. Sal (Peter Allas) runs a popular local trattoria, Vincent (Michael Cavalieri) is an aspiring blues musician, and Joey, the youngest, is an earnest, studious type. All of them, especially Joey, make every effort to straighten out Jack, but their efforts all too predictably fail in the long run.
Caldarella gives the material a strong sense of veracity, and he tells a mostly gripping story. Biggest problem is the script’s lack of characterization; crucially, one never learns why the title character is so dependent on heroin. But there is a raw, visceral force to Leonardi’s portrayal of the tormented Jack , and Capra is also intense as Joey. Other thesps are less memorable.
Gregory Alper’s score provides a nice blend of blues-rocking (to underline Vincent’s musical ambitions) and traditional Italian fare. Lenser Ben Kufrin gives pic suitable nocturnal look.