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March 05, 2007 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2007-03-05

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com h

Monday, March 5, 2007 - 5A

Urbane-mob drama It's all in

shows promise

DailyArts Writer
With "The Departed" pulling
off a best-picture
win at last week's
AcademyAwards, ***%
the crime caper
is officially cool The Black
again. And it's Donnellys
not a moment too
soon for NBC. Mondaysat
After the now- 10 p.m.
comatose "Studio
60 on the Sunset NBC
Strip," perhaps
permanently, the
network debuted its much-antici-
pated mob drama "The Black
Donnellys" last Monday, a week
earlier than expected. Though
probably over hyped, the intri-
cate production is an intriguing,
refined drama that may actually
meet the high expectations for an
entry into this genre.
Set in the present-day streets of
New York City, "The Black Don-
nellys" centers on the perpetual
turf war between Italian and Irish
mobs, who have divided the city
by neighborhood, daring anyone
to cross the lines. The main char-
acters are the Donnelly broth-
ers (Tommy, Jimmy, Kevin and
Sean), four black Irishmen who
are as close as they're mistrusted.
The Italian mob murdered their
father, setting the stage for famil-
ial vengeance.
With their solidarity, the Don-
nelly brothers have acquired a lot
of power even at their young age.
Their biggest fan, a friend named
Joey Ice Cream (because, you see,
he's cool), narrates the story from
prison. In the pilot, Joey gives us
the rundown on each of the broth-
ers, the most important of whom
are Tommy and Jimmy. Jimmy is
the crazy one who steals trucks
and kidnaps Italians with names
like Louie Downtown. Tommy
is the responsible one who deals
with the fallout.
Though the plot has loose ends,
they're all fascinating bits of a
worthwhile story. The premise
more than hints at Martin Scors-
ese's "Mean Streets," but it's deep
enough and the characters are
lively enough to keep it fresh and
consistently engaging.

Tommy Donnelly especially
is a character in the mold of the
classic mob hero. By hitting back
against the Italians' latest power
grab, he suddenly finds himself at
the head of their Irish opposition.
The considerable anguish and sac-
rifice it took for hin to get there
is an appropriately understated
lead-in to subsequent episodes.
The show's many thematic
montages, rich in concept and
implication, are the work of writ-
er/director Paul Haggis. Having
come ever-so-close to being the
first man ever to co-write three
straight best pictures ("Million
Dollar Baby" in2005, "Crash" last
year and "Letters from Iwo Jima"
this year), Haggis has quickly
become known for the gravity of
his product, even if it sometimes
Saints' in New
York City? Sure.
misses the mark. Here, he pres-
ents a polished take on the age-
old story of the toll that mob life
takes on a good man. "Donnellys"
clearly reflects Haggis's personal
touch - and the show only ben-
efits from it.
As an urbane, sophisticated
entry from a respected screen-
writer, "Donnellys" actually has
much in common with "Studio
60." Aaron Sorkin's drama, set
behind the scenes of a late-night
sketch-comedy show, was also
highly anticipated and opened
to rave reviews before falling off
the face of the earth (its ratings
had sunk into the low 2s, which
is bad even for a late-night rerun
of "Friends). It's unclear if "Don-
nellys" can retain viewers that
continually tune in to "Heroes,"
the show's lead-in. The show is
more than capable of acting as a
stand-in for "Studio 60" - NBC
promises to bring it back at some
point, so it may only be a four-to-
six week run for the Donnellys.
Whether it could stand on its own
remains tobe seen.

the stars
"Zodiac" is impossible to control, to pin down,
to penetrate. It's strong, unwieldy and creates
its own idea of what a police procedural should
be, a reinvention that avoids
the genre's customary indul-
gences while creating several ***
of its own. It is much easier to
describe than to discuss, prob- Zodiac
ably because it speaks for
itself so emphatically. I know I At Quality16
responded to it, but that makes and Showcase
it no easier to break down. Paramount
The film opens in 1968 and
doesn't stop jumping weeks,
months and even years from there, at first the
story of San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul
Avery (Robert Downey Jr.), in the film's esti-
mation a docile and drug-addled creature, and
then moves on to a detective (Mark Ruffalo) and
eventually a cartoonist (Jake Gyllenhaal) who
each take the reigns at the story's convenience.
The movie"is captive to the mythology of the
Zodiac and his era, every suspect and conversa-
tion and secret code. At times the film's specifici-
ty is almostfrightening; at others, it's distant and
enigmatic. It's a strange and enthralling ride.
Let's see what we can make of this. "Zodiac"
is most urgently about obsession. The titular
killer, hot property in the media culture of Cali-
fornia in the late '60s and early '70s, was defined
by his insatiable hunger for celebrity. The detec-
tives assigned to find him, including in a way a
Chronicle cartoonist who went on to write the
definitive text about the crimes, threw them-
selves into the case with an intensity thatnearly
drove them mad (and arguably did).And then we
have the film's director, David Fincher ("Se7en,"

"What do you mean I die at the end?"
"Panic Room," "Fight Club"), who unwavering-
ly chronicles every mundane detail of Zodiac's
fleeting reign of infamy, and reinvents himself
in the process.
What else? This is not a light picture, and
no one will mistake it for one. It's long (158
crammed minutes), it's impossibly intricate and
it's so plain-stated that at times it's unbearable
to watch (the scenes of Zodiac's killings are so
terribly quiet). It also has comedic ambitions
and is led by three strong performances by very
different actors - Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruf-
falo and Robert Downey Jr. - that may be the
most restrained and affable of their careers.
There is more to say, but it won't get us any
closer to the movie. When it comes down to it,
to describe "Zodiac" as anything other than a
masterwork would do injustice to its achieve-
ment, which isconsiderable, but such hyperbole
suggests a perfection the film doesn't attain. At
the end of this thrilling, intimidating movie,
we're left in awe of its narrative innovation and
yet also slightly disillusioned by it. "Zodiac" is
a thorough and rigorous vision, but that leaves
no breathing room, and thus the limitations of

the storytelling are clear. The film sacrifices
both the desire and the ability to surprise, and
no matter what way you look at it, and that's a
bummer in any thriller, even one as controlled
as this.
About that control. David Fincher has always
had it, even in his lesser films, and he is a stu-
dent of the thriller. His versatility within genre
constraints is astonishing - he's never going to
make a Drew Barrymore movie, but no two of
his films have more in common than their dark
subjects. He shoots hope in the back of the head
in "Se7en" and then cheerfully revives it with
the taut theatrics of "The Game." What unites
his films is how precisely they achieve their
diverse effects. He is an author, and "Zodiac"
shows that creative reinvention is his lifeblood.
This is not Fincher's best work - it's too mys-
tifying, too distant - but it's always riveting, and
that's saying something for a movie as huge and
staggering as this. It leaves no room for discus-
sion, but then maybe that's the point: The movie
is called "Zodiac," and it is Zodiac, his crimes,
his essence. In that sense, the film is a master-
work. There's no other way to describe it.


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