Around the same time that Robert De Niro was acting in such crime classics as Goodfellas, Casino, and Heat, he went off and directed his own crime classic: A Bronx Tale. While elements of the film work against itself, the majority of this movie is insanely engaging and emotional.
A Bronx Tale is based off a one-man show written and performed by Chazz Palminteri, who also stars in the movie. The film “follows Calogero, a young Italian-American teenager in The Bronx, New York as his path in life is guided by two father figures, played by De Niro as his biological father and Chazz Palminteri as a local mafia boss.” (Wikipedia.org) The underlying plot concerns the relationship between Calogero and his two father figures, but other storylines arise throughout the film, such as race relations in the 1960s. The first quarter of the film is fairly boring, and is basically an extended version of Henry Hill’s childhood in Goodfellas. This portion even has the same style as Scorsese’s masterpiece, with lots of rambling narration from older Calogero reflecting back on his youth, while lots of non-diegetic music transitions the flashbacks. The film doesn’t get interesting until Calogero reaches seventeen, and is trying to live by the lessons he’s learned from his two father figures. Calogero also forms a relationship with a black girl, which was considered a taboo. The entirety of the film is dedicated to racial boundaries, and what it means to overcome them. This theme is engrossing and heartbreaking; it’s where this movie really shines.
A Bronx Tale deals with the racism that is usually glossed over in most gangster flicks, which helps it avoid glorifying the gangster lifestyle . The scenes that deal with race, and Calogero’s relationship with the black girl, Jane (Taral Hicks), stray away from an overuse of narration. Often Calogero’s narration tends to interfere with the flow of the movie, and explains/describes scenes instead of letting them play out. Calogero even tells the audience what the theme of the film is. The sequences of narration felt unnecessary, and the lack of it for the majority of the race feud portion was well done and added a lot of raw emotion to the scenes.
The other great portion of the film is the exploration of Calogero’s relationship with Sonny (Chazz Palminteri). The film takes its time introducing Sonny. The first quarter of the film shows him from Calogero’s perspective as he watches him from across the street. It isn’t until Calogero meets Sonny that he is revealed to be more than a traditional thuggish mobster. Sonny is wise, and wants the best for Calogero. He gives very good advice, and in many ways proves to a better father than Calogero’s actual father. Sonny also can’t trust anyone, and explains to Calogero how he’s able to control the Bronx. There is a great weight and tragedy to Sonny that makes him captivating to watch.
A Bronx Tale is a guy’s movie in the sense that all the main characters are male, and the film deals with what it means to be a man. I wonder if the film resonates more with guys? I’ve only talked to other men about this movie, and I wonder what a female audience thinks of A Bronx Tale. Would it be as engaging as it is for a male one? Of course the enjoyment of a movie doesn’t rely on the gender of its characters, but A Bronx Tale has a dominant male perspective and disregards its female characters. The only two female characters in the film are Calogero’s mom, who disappears completely from the movie after the first quarter, and Jane. Jane is cute and nice, but her main character trait is her status as a black female love interest. There isn’t much to her, the most engaging thing about her is all the obstacles Calogero has to overcome in order to be with her.
A Bronx Tale is a crime classic because of the characters and relationships. Besides Sonny, the crime element of the film is the least interesting part. The film is at its best when the audience can fully sympathize with Calogero and his situation. Sadly the film is out of print, and expensive. It used to show on TV a lot (that’s where I first saw it) but now it’s fading away. People should give it another watch because it deserves to be remembered.
Favorite Scene: The entire part of the film that takes place on the day of Calogero’s first date with Jane is magnificent. So much happens and every scene from this part of the film is memorable. There are funny moments, tense moments, and heartbreaking moments all being rolled out within minutes of each other.
Written by Tyler Ducheneaux
Images from A Bronx Tale