"Little Odessa" is to New York what "Heat" is to L.A. Furlong lying dead on the floor is like a mirror image of Alain Delon (the shot the The Smiths would later use on the cover of their "The Queen Is Dead" LP) lying dead at the end of "L'Insoumis"/"The Unvanquished" by Alain Cavalier. Fate dominates this in a very Cimino, Mann, Mizoguchi-ian way. A mainstream auteur was born. What a birth! Is the film burn in ... ▽
35mm, rewatched, re-rated. In his first two films, Gray retakes the mythology of immigrant mafias in the United States and turns it into a tragedy toward silence and void, that is, the accumulation of crimes and confrontations are sudden becomings of a language without excess or predictability - cinema inscribed by a liturgy of space and time dimensions. And memory, ...
The crime/hitman element is held so much in the background of the family drama that it feels mostly unneeded until the climax. It makes the story more ungrounded and melodramatic than it would be if it were a pure drama, or had it equally balanced both elements, or even, if Roth was just an ex-con. The drama itself is serviceable but doesn't push emotion and characterizations into unique and surprising territories.
James Gray's debut set the stage for what has turned into a brilliant career. The bonds of family and community butt heads with individualism with tragic results. Gray understands the war within individuals who want to break free of their roots but cannot. A powerful debut which holds up much better than other mid to late 90's crime films because he does not feel the need to be Quentin Tarantino.
While his later films may be larger in scope, watching Little Odessa proves that James Gray had his thematic sensibilities on lock from the beginning of his career. Good luck finding performances like this out of other directorial debuts.