Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.
Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino.
This movie is exhausting but not bad. City Hall’s biggest crime is it aims for greatness (it feels like it’s shooting for Best Picture Ever Made #WatchTheTrailer) and it’s 3 out of 4 stars at most. I think it works well in individual scenes and the performances are mostly good, but it’s so all over the place that there’s no way it can come together into a satisfying whole as a feature. City Hall would have been better suited as an HBO limited series. This movie also has a climax very similar to The Devil’s Advocate, Insomnia, The Recruit, Two for the Money, Hangman and Righteous Kill (I can’t wait for that review). Pacino proteges SPOILER are constantly disenfranchised with their mentor END SPOILER.
Rob: I was warned not to come here, Adam. I think we should limit this review to the space between a handshake. Try the lemon pudding! Hang on, I have to get the gumbo out of my Yiddish.
Seriously, though. I like what you said about this working better as an HBO limited series. Outside of the Cusack/Pacino story, City Hall is made up of three or four subplots featuring very good character actors (including personal favorites of mine like The West Wing’s Richard Schiff and Mad Men’s John Slattery) that never really coalesce in any interesting or challenging way. Each of them trucks along at a reasonable pace and resolves exactly where you expect it to. About halfway through City Hall, I dubbed it The Wire for Grandma. It’s a very safe, very PG, very kosher examination of political corruption that features powerful men atoning for past mistakes in the most honorable way possible. Someone calls them on an error they made, they admit it, and they take steps to correct it. There’s very little gamesmanship or intrigue. There are very few twists or turns. The violence is mild. I didn’t hate this movie, but I didn’t especially like it, either.
As for Al, Mayor John Pappas sits at an odd intersection between The Insider Pacino and Two for the Money Pacino, I think. He’s at a kind of medium simmer. He’s fine, but this performance feels a bit like an afterthought, as if the movie kept interrupting him enough as he went about his normal day that he finally decided to put on a suit and throw us a few lines. Cusack does his thing in an acceptable way that doesn’t really shake anything up. He’s mostly fine, too. I don’t know. City Hall is one of only a handful of Al Pacino movies I haven’t/hadn’t seen before we cover/ed them, and I have to say it made very little impression at all. You joked before that it should have been called For Your Consideration, and I think I agree. It seems to want to hit all the right awards bait beats without upsetting anyone. As a result, it ends up just kind of sitting there.
I think I liked the movie more overall than you did. I grew on me as it went along a tad, but that’s entirely because there will be a great scene peppered in between three or four that are okay to decent. If only they condensed this film so that it wasn’t about everything, it could be something more memorable. I’d love to know what each of the screenwriters brought to the final script. I’m guessing the Aiello stuff came mostly from Pileggi, but I don’t know that for certain. There are so many elements (like the DNC nomination, Bridget Fonda’s character) that could be excised from the final product. It’s so overstuffed that Pacino’s mayor (whose story this is at least supposed to be) is missing for long stretches after the first act. It’s also not him missing in a way where he still hangs over the movie. He’s just not there.
Rob: At one point after a long absence, Cusack walks into the mayor’s office and Al goes, “Where have you been!?” and I was like, “I was about to ask you the same thing!” The more we talk about it, the more I really do wish this had been developed as a series. Not to bring up The Wire again, but there was originally supposed to be a spin-off series called The Hall that followed Aidan Gillen’s upstart politico-turned Mayor of Baltimore Tommy Carcetti as he negotiated the various ups and downs of his office. That ended up getting folded into season four of The Wire, but City Hall might have benefited from that approach. It could have expanded on Landau’s judge character’s ethical challenges and Aiello’s struggles to keep his position AND the trust of his superiors without losing his head (literally). It could really have built up Cusack’s disillusion before inspiring him to regain his optimism and belief in the system. Most of all, it could have given Pacino and Fonda something real to do. They could spar over Cusack’s soul. Man, there’s some Sopranos in this idea, too, isn’t there? Where the hell is HBO?
Adam: I understand as much as someone who was a kid during both of these decades could understand it. Joking aside, I think you touch on something interesting. These guys are the handshake deal era (era) and that old guard is shifting. You mentioned ‘90s dramas being movies that fascinate you and I wholeheartedly agree. One thing I love my parents for is they let me watch R-rated dramas at a very young age. I didn’t always understand them, but by exposure I was able to figure quite a bit out for myself. City Hall’s director, Harold Becker, is one of the really good journeymen filmmakers for this type of movie. In addition to City Hall, he directed Sea of Love, Malice and Vision Quest, all of which are really good. I think the next film of his I’m going to seek out is Taps. His only clunkers (that I’ve seen) are Mercury Rising and Domestic Disturbance, but I would totally watch either if they showed up on cable.
In true Adam Riske form, I want to close my portion of this review out with a couple of random observations that caught my interest while I watched City Hall. The first is how much I would love to see this film as a full season of HBO’s Project Greenlight. I want to sit in the room with the screenwriters as they decide on the name James Bone. I want to be with the casting director when she landed Al Pacino to play the lead. I want to see the filmmakers watch the first edit and realize that for all the Oscar ingredients they put into this film, they just have an okay movie. Second, I want an entire cut that is just about the friendship between Danny Aiello and Morty the Waiter. Let’s see the first time where they check in with each other as if to say “Are we really doing this?” and then they belt out their first showtune together. I want to see Morty at Anselmo’s funeral singing one last sad number from Carousel to memorialize his departed friend.
Anywho, I’m giving a slight Mark Ahn for City Hall.
Adam: Reviews from your heart are more interesting. Our readers can get head anywhere.
Rob: Zing! I honestly can’t imagine how I’d feel about some of these movies if we weren’t watching them together, bud. Reserved Seating really is something special. What are we watching next week?
Adam: One of my most anticipated movies of the year (unironically): Little Italy, a VOD romantic comedy starring Emma Roberts and Hayden Christensen in a Romeo & Juliet style story of a man and woman from warring pizzeria families who find love. Do you think the director, Donald Petrie of Mystic Pizza fame, went back to the kitchen because he kneaded the dough? I’m very sorry.
Rob: All these puns and more, next week on Reserved Seating. Until then…
Adam: Bank exchange!