Little Odessa (1994)

Genres - Crime  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Drama, Urban Drama, Coming-of-Age, Gangster Film  |   Run Time - 98 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Jason Buchanan

Given its star, aesthetics, and date of release, it may come as no surprise that Little Odessa was nearly relegated to obscurity shortly after its original theatrical run in mid-1994. Those expecting an energetic, Tarantino-style crime film may have recoiled at this broodingly bleak, somber tale of an unfeeling professional killer who returns to his childhood neighborhood in Brighton Beach to perform a job, though those with the patience to give this quietly desperate, introspective gem a chance will find a somber but rewarding tale of moral decay and its repercussions on loved ones. As the killer in question, Tim Roth provides a quiet and expressive low-key performance which richly visualizes his struggle to connect with his family and old flame. His desperation to be understood is off-balanced by an emotional wall of ice he has created in order to effectively carry out his work; Roth's quiet desperation resulting from his inability to communicate with those closest to him provides viewers with a chilly sense of impending doom. As he interacts with his admiring younger brother (an effective performance by the sometimes shrill Edward Furlong) and his hardened love interest, Roth's expressive manner quietly conveys everything that his character can't verbalize. Cinematographer Tom Richmond's muted color scheme externalizes the dank emptiness of his subjects' souls, effectively projecting their despair onto the surroundings they inhabit, and rendering the scenes with Roth's dying mother and conflicted father heart-wrenchingly real. This case should also be made for the punctuated and decidedly non-glamorous violence in the film. A thankful contrast to the flood of stylishly violent crime films that came in the wake of Tarantino's films, Little Odessa's violence is present to serve a purpose, making it all the more effective and horrifying when characters do ultimately succumb to its deceptively seductive and ultimately soul-shredding allure.