Josh Keown | Night Terror Novels 🧛🏻♂️’s review published on Letterboxd:
“Just look like we are a married couple, spanning time!”
-Billy Brown (Vincent Gallo)
Buffalo ’66 is the feature debut from Vincent Gallo, who also writes and stars as the lead. I feel I must first admit; I didn’t actually want to like this film. I had heard much about Gallo prior to seeing this (and not all sung his praises.), particularly that he is rather egotistic and self-absorbed, and that he complained about having to do all the work for Christina Ricci (Whom delivers perhaps the best performance of her career here.). As such, I concede that I didn’t exactly go into this with very high hopes. Against all odds, however, this film exceeded my expectations. Despite my predisposition, Gallo’s stunning debut is an undeniable showcase of low budget, independent filmmaking at its most magnificent.
Buffalo ’66 (Which refers to the protagonist’s place and year of birth – much like Gallo himself; same place and same decade) follows Billy Brown, whom has recently been released from prison. Soon after, he kidnaps student Layla (a truly excellent Christina Ricci) and forces her to visit his parents and pretend to be his wife. The acting is phenomenal from all the cast, Christina Ricci shines in all her radiant loveliness with a heartfelt, earnest performance as the amiable tap dancer Layla. Ben Gazzara and Anjelica Huston are superbly impressive as Billy Brown’s estranged and distant parents. The supporting cast are great too, including the likes of Mickey Rourke and Jan-Michael Vincent.
And yet, somewhat irritatingly, it is Gallo who really makes the film, with a performance that is both unequivocally compelling and utterly mesmerising. The character Gallo sculpts is so brilliantly intricate it could be dissected and debated for years. He initially comes off as an aggressive sociopath, but as the film develops so too does his character. We see an incredibly believable vulnerability to him. He is the embodiment of resentment but, when his parents are introduced it is revealed why he is as he is. They are so uncaring and detached, completely empty and impassive toward their unloved son. When Gallo does find genuine love in Layla, he is caught completely off-guard. He is terrified of the prospect and fights against it.
Gallo creates one of the most fascinating character studies committed on film. Billy Brown is realistic. He is human. And he is ultimately a tragic product of an emotionally scarring childhood.
Besides the tremendous acting, the films cinematography is spectacular, providing a stark and ultimately bleak portrait of New York. It perfectly complements the palpable, often awkward, tension Gallo creates. His inventiveness is faultless too, from the brilliant Sinatra scene with Billy’s father to Ricci’s impromptu tap-dancing at the bowling alley. The script is smart and intelligently written weaving a story that is both harshly true to life and in parts quirkily funny, yet altogether undeniably melancholy. It is not all gloomy though, as the film builds to a satisfyingly optimistic conclusion. Never has a film managed to change my preconceptions so much.
VERDICT; Simply magnificent and intensely moving, made all the more tragic considering it’s partly autobiographical of Gallo’s own traumatic experiences. Beautifully shot, excellently written and topped off with performances so passionate and realistic you can almost feel the pain. Words can barely describe how much I loved this film. An absolute masterpiece of independent cinema.
4.5/5 or 9/10
(P.S. On a side note, what the hell does it mean to be spanning time?)
(P.S.S. Apologies for the long review, I could literally write pages and pages on the films I love, I hereby promise the next one will be no more than three lines.)