By extension, the film itself offers snapshots of various strata of Manhattan life in the ’40s, from the corridors of publishing power and watering holes of assorted stripes to flophouses and the common meeting ground of the subway, where, it might be pointed out, everyone on the social scale can be seen to be nicely dressed and trying to look their best — even the homeless.
Tucci, who co-directed the very fine “Big Night” with Campbell Scott and then the misfired farce “The Impostors” on his own, continues to show a proclivity for presenting his scenes in master shots when possible and keeping cutting to a minimum. This works wonderfully well in a one-take sequence in which, in the background, the New Yorker receptionist (Celia Weston) tries to convince Gould that Mitchell is away on vacation while the foregrounded Mitchell is cowering around a hallway corner. It’s even amusing as a kind of Godardian change of pace in a barroom sequence as the camera remains fixed while Mitchell and Gould take turns leaning their heads into frame from either side. At other times, however, there is a sense of constriction and dramatic limitation, a way in which the rigid style is preventing the life of the city from washing onto the screen the way the material would seem to call for.
Convincing at all times as the eccentric who may have been as manipulative as he was nutty, Holm emphasizes Gould’s lucidity and chooses to downplay his alcoholism and obnoxious extremes. Tucci, while playing a professional observer and reporter, remains reined in by a reticence and unassertiveness that keep Mitchell at an emotional remove. Large cast of supporting players is colorful and accomplished.
Although a modest budget keeps the film’s physical focus relatively narrow, production designer Andrew Jackness, costume designer Juliet Polcsa and cinematographer Maryse Alberti have packed the picture with period flavor by using many real Village locations and coordinating an immaculately handsome look for the appealing tale. Evan Lurie’s piano-dominated score is supplemented by numerous period tunes.