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Monument Avenue

Review by Gregory Avery
Posted 25 December 1998

  Directed by Ted Demme.

Starring Denis Leary, Ian Hart, Famke Janssen,
Jason Barry, Noah Emmerich, Greg Dulli,
Colm Meaney and Martin Sheen.

Written by Mike Armstrong.

Denis Leary may never become a leading-man. Although he does some very good moments of acting in this, his second film with the director Ted Demme, there's something tight, something always clenched about him, as if he doesn't want to open-up fully to an audience. It's not mystique: it's more like, the only way he can communicate is from behind a hard, roiling facade. You never feel like you're seeing all of him.

Here, he plays a small-time car thief who lives in a working-class Boston Irish neighborhood, where the local boss (Colm Meaney) acts friendly and jovial towards everyone while exacting tyrannies on those who work for him. Leary does some very good riffs with fellow actors Jason Barry and Ian Hart, but his limitations as a performer really show up when Hart is on-screen. The British-born actor completely transforms himself to play an American character, the kind of neighborhood guy who seems fated to always be someone's buddy, never a leader. (If you hadn't seen him before, you'd never know this was the same guy who, convincingly, played John Lennon, twice, in two completely different films.) As a performer, Hart can connect intuitively with an audience, convey great subtleties of character, and he knows how to hold the camera's gaze. In comparison, during moments where we should be seeing revelation or insight, Leary bows his head and averts his eyes.

This is not to say that the film does not have its enjoyable moments. Demme gets a great deal of color and life into the picture, accommodating the different rhythms and styles of a greatly diverse cast, which includes Billy Crudup, who has a small turn as a hopped-up ex-con, Famke Janssen as the conflicted girlfriend of Leary's character, and a brief appearance by Jeanne Tripplehorn, as a "yuppie" girl who wanders into the bar where the main characters hang out. (The title is a reference to where the upwardly-mobile residents of the area live, and figures in a hilarious anecdote told in one scene.) There is also one scene where Leary, Barry and Hart sit down at home, after a night out, and end up reminiscing fondly -- about the Eighties. Am I getting old, or what?

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