Cast: Norman Reedus, Deborah Harry, Elina Löwensohn, Peter Appel, Holter Graham, Adrien Brody, Jerry Adler, Issac Hayes, Clark Gregg
Writers: screenplay by Adam Bernstein and Marc Gerald; based on the novel “Portrait of a Young Man Drowning” by Charles Perry.
Producer: Jonathan Demme
Director: Adam Bernstein
Released: Made in 1997, released in the U.S. in 1999.
Overall score: 6/10
Brody score: 6/10
I’m going to level with you: this is a strange movie. Dark comedy mixed with gangster flick. Disturbing, violent, dark and somehow funny. If you’re a fan of films by the Cohen Brothers (such as Fargo), then you might dig this. In spite of the bloodshed and off-putting subject matter, this film is actually not bad.
The main character, Harry Odum (played by Norman Reedus of The Walking Dead and Boondock Saints), is under the ever-watchful eye of his clearly troubled mother (Deborah Harry of Blondie). Mother controls everything in Harry’s life, including his use of electricity and his bath time. She’s also caused him to be quite repressed and confused sexually… to put it mildly.
Harry’s friend Arnie Finklestein (Adrien Brody) is basically an American version of the character Ali G. (this is before Ali G. was a thing, though). Arnie is a wannabe urban gangster homeboy, who’s really a skittish teenage drug addict from the suburbs. He strikes you as someone who used to be an honor student, before drugs and before trying to be a tough guy. Actually, Arnie quite reminds me of a guy I dated briefly in college (not really in looks – other than the facial hair – but in clothing style, mannerisms and way of speaking).
Arnie takes Harry along on a job he was assigned by the Jewish mob. While watching Arnie work over a man who owes his boss money, Harry becomes very excited (perhaps sexually, based on the imagery we’re shown) and feels drawn to beat on the man himself. Harry takes it to a level much higher than Arnie was intending to go. This scares Arnie, but seems to leave Harry with a feeling of satisfaction.
Word of Harry’s skill at working over the debtor spreads to Arnie’s boss, Mr. Pinkwise (Peter Appel), who takes Harry under his wing as hired muscle for the Jewish mob, despite being a “goy” (gentile). Arnie is immediately demoted, which doesn’t sit too well with him, of course. Arnie decides to rob a liquor store to prove himself worthy, but ends up botching it and spending a year in jail.
Meanwhile, Harry’s reputation and list of victims grows. He also takes on a persona known as Madden (Holter Graham), whom we see him conversing with, ala Fight Club. Unlike Fight Club, though, it’s made clear that Madden is an alter ego, not an actual person. By channeling the Madden character, Harry has both confidence and a revved up sex drive.
It is also during this time that Harry meets the maid of Louis Varga (Jerry Adler), a higher-up in the mob. Her name is Iris, a timid and charming Hungarian immigrant with a leg brace (Elina Löwensohn). We see Madden assault Iris upon their first meeting (perhaps an attempted rape), which Harry insists wasn’t him. It was, of course, as is made clear later on. Harry apologizes to Iris, with coaching from Varga, and they begin an initially awkward relationship. However, Harry is still only capable of being physical with Iris while taking on the Madden persona. This is due to his aforementioned repression.
When Arnie comes home from jail, Harry tries to get him back in the good graces of Mr. Pinkwise. To sum up, without too many spoilers: it does not go well.
Harry continues to be controlled by Madden, until we see them blend together visually. To me, this either indicates they’re now permanently one, or that Madden is no longer needed.
Without spelling it out completely, I will say something dramatic happens to Harry that makes him appear to finally have a full psychotic break. There is a happy ending of sorts to the film, but in the last seconds, we’re reminded that Harry is unwell.
The ending is somewhat ambiguous, but given how puzzled the film leaves its audience throughout, it seems fitting.
As I said, this is a strange one, but if you’re a fan of the main actors (Reedus, Harry, Brody), you’ll probably want it in your watched column.
On a side note: If I keep up this pace of covering one film per month, it’s going to take me about five years to get through them. And he’ll be making more in the meantime. So, safe to say, I need to kick things up a notch. You’ll be seeing me post more frequently. 😉