This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
50mileninja’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Vincent Gallo plays street wise Billy Brown in this atmospheric and smartly acted indie style drama set in Buffalo, New York. Gallo wrote the story, the screenplay and also directs this movie, indeed he even wrote and sings the song played over the closing credits.
Christina Ricci plays Layla a beautiful blonde tap dancing student who finds herself drawn into Billy Brown’s very strange day.
Five years ago Billy Brown disappeared from the streets.
Today looking dishevelled, pale and drawn, wearing distinctive red leather ankle boots, a tight grey leather jacket, he swaggers out of the prison gates after a torturous and abusive five year jail term.
Billy served time for a crime he didn’t commit to prevent the threat of ‘very horrible things’ happening to himself and his parents, by a New York gangster (Mickey Rouke). New York gangsters are very serious people. Billy had borrowed $10000 and foolishly lost it all on a televised Buffalo Broncos’ game. His world crashed down around him the moment Broncos’ kicker Scott Wood missed the game winning field goal.
Today, Billy Brown has plans to see his parents one last time, before carrying out the murder of Scott Wood. To stop his parents from knowing the truth behind his five year disappearance, he plans to visit them today under the guise of arriving back in town after being away living some kind of jet set lifestyle.
In a bizarre moment of dark comic drama, after first borrowing a coin to make a call to his parents, Billy Brown kidnaps Layla and uses her to drive them over to his parents’ house. Billy tells Layla to pull over on the way to his parents’ home, to relieve himself against a fence having been frustrated since the beginning of the movie.
Layla confounds the audience by acquiescing to the orders of Billy Brown during this period and instead of behaving as a terrified victim or trying to escape, she is instinctively attracted to the quirky behaviour of Billy who goes on to apologise for the kidnap and asks Layla to pretend to be his wife during the planned visit. Billy is extremely nervous yet desperate for a sense of his parent’s approval. It's like this is something he had never received. But during the visit it is apparent his folks are both extremely loathable characters.
The visit is a traumatising one for Billy; his parents (Ben Gazzara and Anjelica Huston) in parts ignore, belittle and argue with each other and with Billy. Ghosts from their collected past are raised that help clarify to the audience why Billy has grown up to be such an awkward and disaffected character.
Layla sees through the chronic and antagonistic atmosphere created by Billy’s overbearing parents and attempts to help Billy shine, making up ever outlandish tales about their imaginary life, finally saying she is actually pregnant. But by this point the situation is toxic and they leave, with a hurt Billy acting unfairly cold towards Layla. A confused Layla has seen a vulnerability and lightness to Billy’s personality that he doesn’t yet want to acknowledge, but she is unable to make a connection with Billy because he is emotionally detached at this point. He doesn’t see anything other than his planned revenge killing and his own inevitable demise.
Billy is a battered and bruised soul. Lost in depths of insecurity, self-loathing and loneliness, he is both craving connection and affection and is yet totally detached, and at times cold and cruel. He is the product of a terribly cruel upbringing and is now emotionally torn up. The movie is filmed in a stark and bleak way that emphasises how tough life can be. Billy is consumed by his apparent need to murder the Broncos’ kicker who he continues to see as responsible for his hellish past five years in jail. Billy Brown essentially has a death wish envisonaging himself shooting the player and then turning the gun on himself. He sees no value in living he doesn’t seem to value himself any longer.
Billy’s focus shifts to locating Wood and then preparing the hit, first collecting a pistol from his local bowling club where we see he clearly had a talent, with trophies poignantly stashed in his locker rather than being on display at his home. This part of his life has been extinguished but for a short while, with Layla, he relives his success using his favourite lane and ball. Jan Michael Vincent returns from Airwolf duties for a great cameo as the owner of the club who has looked after Billy’s locker.
Billy has no sense of a life beyond the day and so this may his explain his erratic behaviour and his plan and motivation is one that Layla is unaware of for the duration of the movie.
The now retired Scott Wood runs a seedy strip club and Billy arranges to spend time with Layla at a cheap motel across the highway, waiting for his moment of revenge later on that night. They spend time together in a cafe and finally rent a motel room. They share a bath and fall asleep together. It is a simple and affecting part of the film; their shared experiences during the day and evening help build a relationship that falters at first but delicately and quietly the veneer surrounding Billy begins to melt.
He doesn’t realise at first, indeed he continues to thirst for revenge and it is only towards the end of the film that he has an epiphany that occurs at the point of his decision to carry out the murder.
Billy stands and stares at the fat, bloated figure of Scott Wood sat at a booth in the seedy night club. Music is blasting and Billy imagines the outcome of the murder and this own demise and something triggers in his mind – A revelation that he now has something worth living for. He has a girl who cares for him. He only realises this at this very moment, a girl loves him for who he is. Layla has seen his soul and not turned away but rather drew him to her.
He leaves the club and his attitude changes; he seems to be free from the emotional load he has been carrying. He grabs a hot chocolate and a heart shaped cookie for Layla from a nearby store, and his banter with the counter assistant is light, funny and another side of Billy is revealed at last. Billy returns to Layla at the motel and the film ends.
I found this a very interesting movie with distinctive characters and some cool dialogue. The onscreen chemistry between Gallo and Ricci is perfect. It is an awkward relationship but essentially warm hearted in the sense that they are drawn together and ultimately fit each other’s lives in a positive way.
Great acting, well directed and original. Highly recommended.