Washington Heights (2002)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Urban Drama, Family Drama  |   Release Date - May 9, 2003 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 89 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Washington Heights is a fine urban drama, with strong performances and an effective mix of grit, humor, and warmth. Director Alfredo De Villa captures the feel of an inner city neighborhood with honesty and affection. While the characters struggle with the deprivations of the neighborhood, and guns and drugs make an appearance, De Villa keeps things in perspective, and shows the joy and the spirit of community that make living in Washington Heights more than bearable. While there are certainly tragic aspects to the tale, Washington Heights stands in sharp contrast to many other urban dramas, which focus on crime and violence and posit escape as the only possibility for happiness. In this film, the people who find happiness in the neighborhood are the ones who embrace what's good about it. The film also focuses realistically complex and troubled human relationships, as exemplified between Carlos (Manny Perez) and his girlfriend, Maggie (Andrea Navedo). In one memorable moment, his anger and frustration with his situation comes through in a disturbingly intimate way. Tomas Milian's performance as the patriarchal shop owner Eddie, is the heart and soul of the film, and his relationship with Carlos is also compellingly layered. Predictably, things build to a dramatic epiphany as Carlos and Eddie angrily express long-held resentments to each other, but De Villa handles this scene gracefully, both actors play it without resorting to histrionics, and it's as surprisingly funny as it is moving. The resolution of Mickey's story is a bit more troubling, despite Danny Hoch's engaging performance. That plot line's presumably unintentional quotation of West Side Story momentarily jolts the viewer out of the movie. But De Villa's film has built up more than enough audience good will to recover.