Thug life has never looked as lush -- or as unbelievable -- as it does in Nick Gomez's doggedly idiosyncratic crime saga. "Quirky" doesn't begin to describe the contradictions at play in this Miami-set tale of drugs, honor, and betrayal, where Michael Rapaport's smooth, taciturn, generally benevolent drug lord Dante gets a comeuppance -- deserved or not -- that sends shock waves through his placid upper-middle class life. Simultaneously surreal and hyperreal, Gomez's work on Illtown belongs to the Long Island-indie school of direction (see also Hal Hartley and Jon Jost), where dialogue and narrative take a backseat to genre subversion and dreamy stylization. Though the script hems closely to the flamboyant-lunatic school of gangster pictures -- replete with a jarring, Pacino-wannabe supporting performance by Tony Danza -- Gomez's overall tone is that of minor-key lament. It may not satisfy patrons of the Scorsese school of ironic-realist bloodletting, but Illtown's deliberate, existential take on crime prefigures much of the stellar, breakthrough work he would accomplish on individual episodes of HBO's The Sopranos.
by Michael Hastings review