THE FUNERAL Director: Abel Ferrara. Starring: Christopher Walken, Chris Penn, Isabella Rossellini, Annabella Sciorra (18)

NEW FILMS

Ryan Gilbey
Friday 18 April 1997 23:02
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You gather from the title that it won't exactly be a Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. But its bleakness, while not as intoxicating as Ferrara's earlier Bad Lieutenant, is quite overpowering. It's a dark, brooding study of the fall of one mobster family in Thirties New York.

After the shooting of 22-year-old Johnny (Vincent Gallo), his older brothers Ray (Christopher Walken) and Chez (Chris Penn) swear revenge, despite the protestations of Ray's wife Jean (Annabella Sciorra). As the film alternates between flashbacks to Ray's childhood, which show how violence was passed on to him like a baton in a relay race, glimpses of the days leading up to Johnny's death, and scenes of the brothers grappling with their loss, a feeling of inevitability and impotence descends around the family.

Nicholas St John's screenplay constantly throws up ideas about responsibility and choice - Ray maintains that God's grace dictates the way of the world, so God is responsible for the family's criminal lifestyle. What it fails to do is work through these ideas with any great vigour. It's a badly disjointed work, too, and not only from the disparity between the synopsis in the production notes and the finished product. It feels like a collection of finely tuned scenes, but without the investment in narrative necessary to connect them. That said, the performances are electrifying whenever the actors are granted enough time with the camera to fully immerse themselves - Chris Penn, for example, is terrifying as Chez, a monster whose inner turmoil rages in his eyes. But The Funeral is a depressing work whose immaturity is glimpsed in a gruesome climax which seems to argue that we can only find progress by obliterating mistakes - and the people who make them.

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