The Cotton Club certainly doesn’t stint on ambition. Four stories [by William Kennedy, Francis Coppola, Mario Puzo, suggested by James Haskins’ pictorial history The Cotton Club] thread through and intertwine in the $47 million picture. While the earlier Francis Coppola gangster efforts had a firm hand on the balance between plot elements and characters, The Cotton Club emerges as uneven and sometimes unfocused.
Focus is on Dixie Dwyer (Richard Gere), a cornet player in a small Gotham club. As the film opens in 1928, Dixie interrupts a solo to push a patron out of the way of a gunman’s bullet. The thankful target turns out to be nightclub owner Dutch Schultz (James Remar).
Another thread involves club tap star Sandman Williams (Gregory Hines) who partners with his brother Clay (Maurice Hines) and has his eyes and heart set on chorus girl Lila Rose Oliver (Lonette McKee).
Dramatically, Coppola and coscreenwriter William Kennedy, juggle a lot of balls in the air. The parallel stories of Gere and Hines’ professional rise prove more potent, thanks largely to a mixture of romance, music and gangland involvement. Hines and McKee generate real sparks in their relationship and latter adds an interesting dimension as a light-skinned singer trying to hide her racial origins.
1984: Nominations: Best Art Direction, Editing