You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Last Rites of Joe May

Set in the gentrifying West Town of Chicago, "The Last Rites of Joe May" poses a genre question: What would Dennis Farina be like in a cowboy hat?

With Dennis Farina, Jamie Anne Allman, Ian Barford, Meredith Droeger, Chelcie Ross, Gary Cole.

Set in the gentrifying West Town of Chicago, “The Last Rites of Joe May” poses a genre question: What would Dennis Farina be like in a cowboy hat? Playing a fading, low-level hood in writer-helmer Joe Maggio’s contemporary Midwest Western, Farina recalls Burt Lancaster in “Atlantic City,” but also Will Penny, as he plays Maggio’s titular wiseguy for all he’s worth. Exposure will be limited, but some savvy exploitation of Farina’s charisma could pay off at the B.O.

It might be the last roundup for Joe May (Farina). Wracked by fits of coughing and weak at the knees, Joe leaves a county hospital in Chicago, where he’s been recovering from pneumonia, with no one to meet him but a city bus: In a characteristically economical Maggio gesture, Joe gives up his seat for one woman, and another promptly gives him hers. The unhappy Joe has a glorified sense of his own importance on the streets of Chicago, but how alone he is will be the catalyst behind Joe’s late-inning epiphany.

Joe is not particularly likable — Farina characters are seldom very cuddly — but viewers have to sympathize: Arriving home, he finds his apartment rented out from under him during his seven-week hospital stay, his landlord having assumed he was dead (in a pretty wild storyline leap). In his place he finds Jenny (Jamie Anne Allman) and her daughter Angelina (the terrific Meredith Droeger). Jenny’s desperate enough to let Joe stay in the apartment in exchange for rent; he’s desperate enough to accept.

It’s not hard to see that Joe’s armor-plated cynicism will eventually crumble before Angelina’s bruised charms and turn him into something resembling a rounded human being; he warms toward Jenny, whose abusive relationship with a Chicago cop (Ian Barford) ignites his sense of righteousness. He also tries to re-establish himself among Chicago’s low-level criminal class, hustling whatever the reigning wiseguy (an apparently uncredited Gary Cole) will let him have. In one instance, his efforts to unload 50 pounds of New Zealand lamb turn into protracted slapstick.

The film is much better in its quieter moments between Farina and Allman, or between Farina and young Droeger, who demonstrate real chemistry. Nothing goes very right for Joe, who’s a sort of Rip Van Winkle of the Chicago underworld, except his burgeoning friendship with the girl, who shares his interest in birds; in a salute to films like “On the Waterfront,” Joe keeps pigeons on the rooftop, as a pastime and handy metaphor. He also listens to opera, the strains of Verdi indicating that even thought he may have spent much of his life on the lower rungs of the moral ladder, his heart has harbored wells of artistic yearning. Despite all this boilerplate gangster-with-a-heart-of-gold stuff, there’s an emotional payoff to “Joe May” that feels solid and right.

Tech credits are fine, with d.p. Jay Silver giving a nice sense of the Chicago that exists out of eyeshot of the Sears Tower or Inland Waterway.

The Last Rites of Joe May

Production: A You're Faded Films and Billy Goat Pictures presentation, in association with Steppenwolf Films. (International sales: XYZ Films, Marina Del Rey.) Produced by Bill Straus, Stephanie Striegel. Executive producers, Tim Evans, Denis Mastro. Co-producers, Carrie Holt de Lama, Terry Kinney. Co-executive producers, Michael Bloch, James Brown, Vince Granatelli, Russell Scalise. Directed, written by Joe Maggio.

Crew: Camera (color), Jay Silver; editor, Seth Anderson; production designer, Merje Veski; costume designer, Emma Potter; associate producer, Larry Fessenden; casting, Claire Simon. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (competing), April 29, 2011. Running time: 102 MIN.

Cast: With Dennis Farina, Jamie Anne Allman, Ian Barford, Meredith Droeger, Chelcie Ross, Gary Cole.

More Scene

  • Naomi Scott Talks Rebooting Princess Jasmine

    'Aladdin': Naomi Scott on Why Her Princess Jasmine Needed Nasim Pedrad's New Character

    Call Naomi Scott the queen of the reboot – or at least, the princess. The 26-year-old actress is taking on the role of Princess Jasmine in Disney’s live-action remake of “Aladdin,” but it’s not her first time jumping into a role that’s already been well-established. Audiences may recognize Scott from 2017’s “Power Rangers” update, where [...]

  • Inside amfAR's Cannes Gala

    Inside amfAR's Cannes Gala: Mariah Carey, Kendall Jenner and Tiffany Trump

    Kendall Jenner caused a commotion when she arrived. Tiffany Trump went unrecognized until a member of the press pointed her out as she made her way down the carpet. And Mariah Carey flew in to perform a couple of songs. Welcome to this year’s AmfAR Gala Cannes, the AIDS organization’s annual — and largest — [...]

  • Lauren Ash44th Annual Gracie Awards, Show,

    Politics and New Abortion Ban Laws Dominate 2019 Gracie Awards

    Female empowerment was in the air Tuesday night as showrunners, writers and performers gathered at the 44th annual Gracie Awards to celebrate women breaking barriers and shattering glass ceilings within the entertainment industry. Sandra Oh, Patricia Arquette, Rachel Maddow and Connie Britton were among the honorees at the ceremony, which took place at the Beverly [...]

  • Sacha Baron Cohen

    Why Sacha Baron Cohen Credits Donald Trump for ‘Who Is America?’

    Over the course of history, comedians have shared their take on current events with biting commentary on everything from class and gender to fashion and politics, and the current presidential administration is definitely no exception — with President Donald Trump regularly lampooned on shows like “Saturday Night Live” and by late-night TV hosts. But when [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content