FESTIVAL REVIEWS: Stars Don't Redeem "Settlement" and "Florentine"
By Eugene Hernandez
Despite a handful of genuinely interesting and provocative films at this
year's LAIFF, the majority of movies were stubbornly formulaic. Two
cases in point, Mark Steilen's "The Settlement" and Nick Stagliano's
"The Florentine" are technically accomplished, handsomely mounted
productions that, at their core, are simply the same old recycled story
with an occasional fresh twist.
"The Settlement" is loaded with charm, due largely to actors like John
C. Reilly and William Fichtner bringing their sizable talents to bear on
a generally bland dark comedy. The pair play, respectively, Pat and
Jerry, two high school buddies who go into the bottom-feeding business
of buying off terminally ill people's insurance settlements for a
fraction of their value and then cashing in on the difference. When a
few sick clients actually live through their ailments, their company
goes bankrupt and the two men get desperate for anything, particularly
the suspiciously sexy woman (Kelly McGillis) who claims to be at death's
door and demands that they front her $500,000.
Everything up to this point in the story is breezy but predictable --
yet another dark comedy with double-crossing women, thick-accented money
lenders, and schmucks who think they know better. The only glimmer of
narrative innovation comes from Reilly's character Pat, who starts out
as a sniveling whiner and becomes a pistol-packing terminator, a
hilarious caricature of a man completely committed to the decisions he
makes in life. There's a spark of life near the end, and a strong final
image, but the audience is dragged through some seriously dull cliches
before "The Settlement" can come close to winning anyone's admiration.
As for "The Florentine," Stagliano's brutally obvious rip-off of "The
Deer Hunter" and "Diner" is filled with nothing but talented actors
indulged to the point of parody. Dialogues don't occur: scenes are
instead showcases for monologues, with every single character getting at
least one juicy paragraph of weepy self-confessional revelation; and any
story-advancing element is shuffled to the background so as not to
distract from someone's performance.
The ensemble plot is almost superfluous to the eye-squinting and
gesticulated emoting of a bunch of blue-collar dreamers trying to get
ahead, such as busted bookie Bobbie (Chris Penn) and the girlfriend
(Mary Stuart Masterson) he virtually ignores; dead-broke bar proprietor
Whitey (Michael Madsen) and his troubled attempts to balance giving
sister Molly (Virginia Madsen) a proper wedding while still keeping his
business afloat; na