MOTW: "A Bronx Tale" Review

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A father becomes worried when a local gangster befriends his son in the Bronx in the 1960s. This leads to the 17 year old son having to choose between two life paths, the path of his father, or the path of his friend.
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MOTW: "A Bronx Tale" Review

-- Rating: R
Length: 121 minutes
Release Date: Sept. 29, 1993
Directed By: Robert De Niro
Genre: Crime/Drama

"A Bronx Tale" is a story about father-and-son relationships, good versus evil, and life in the Bronx in the 1960s. The film, which grossed more than $17 million domestically, is loosely based on the childhood of Chazz Palminteri, the story's writer and one of the movie's stars. The story is played out by a colorful cast of characters that touched audiences' hearts as it moved them from tears to anger to laughter.

The movie begins in 1960 in the Bronx where Rosina (Katherine Narducci) and Lorenzo Anello (Robert De Niro) are raising their young son, Calogero (Francis Capra). During this era, mobsters were a staple in the Bronx, and Calogero is fascinated by them. After witnessing a murder committed by the leader of a local mobster group, Sonny LoSpecchio (Chazz Palminteri), Calogero is questioned by New York City's finest but opts to keep what he knows to himself.

Sonny takes a liking to the young boy and decides to help him out. He offers Lorenzo a job so that he can bring more money home, but Lorenzo turns him down. Sonny then sets his sights on Calogero, determined to help him out. He gives him a job in a local Mafia bar, where the boy earns a princely sum. Lorenzo is not happy when he finds out, so he forces Calogero to return the money and stay away from the mobsters.

By 1968, Calogero (played by Lillo Brancato, Jr.) is all grown up. Unknown to his father, he has kept up a relationship with Sonny and has also joined a local Italian gang. Sonny, who is somewhat of a father figure to Calogero, tries to get him to focus on his academics, but Calogero is determined to follow his own path. Ever a rebel, Calogero falls for a young African-American girl, Jane Williams (Taral Hicks), despite the rift between the local Italians and the African-Americans.

As is typical when dealing with the Mafia, several clashes and episodes of violence are scattered throughout the movie. In the end, Sonny winds up saving Calogero's life, but Calogero is unable to return the favor and Sonny is murdered. Carmine (Joe Pesci), the man whom Sonny saved from certain death in 1960 by killing his assailant, takes Sonny's place and pledges to watch over Calogero. Lorenzo shows up at Sonny's funeral, and the father and son make peace and have a conversation about all they have learned over the years.

In addition to playing one of the movie's lead roles, Robert De Niro made this movie his directorial debut. De Niro, who began his acting career in 1965, was no stranger to gangster films. In 1974, he played the role of Vito Corleone in "The Godfather: Part II," followed by "Once Upon a Time in America" in 1984 and then "Goodfellas" in 1990. As a result of his work, he has received five Oscar nominations, in addition to winning an Oscar for the 1980 film "Raging Bull" and "The Godfather: Part II."

Chazz Palminteri wrote the original stage play for "A Bronx Tale" and is also responsible for its adaptation to the big screen. His portrayal of Sonny LoSpecchio was right on the mark, and he also produced the film. Palminteri broke into Hollywood in the mid-1980s with a series of television appearances in shows including "Dallas," "Matlock," and "Hill Street Blues." "A Bronx Tale" was one of his earliest movies and was also one of his best. He was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his portrayal of Cheech in the 1994 film "Bullets over Broadway."

Lillo Brancato, who played Calogero as a teenager, made his acting debut in the film. Brancato was discovered by talent scouts when they were trying to find the right Robert De Niro lookalike. He managed to do a De Niro impersonation taken from "Taxi Driver," which ultimately won him the role. Since the movie was released, his acting career has taken off. He was cast in movies like "Renaissance Man" and "The Adventures of Pluto Nash," and he had a recurring role as Matt Bevilaqua in "The Sopranos."

While Joe Pesci only played a small role in the film, it was fitting that his character should step in when Sonny died. Pesci, who won an Oscar for his role in the 1990 hit film "Goodfellas," is a staple in any authentic gangster movie. His previous mobster movies included "Easy Money" and "Once Upon a Time in America." His other hit films include the "Lethal Weapon" and "Home Alone" franchises, as well as "My Cousin Vinny" and "JFK."

"A Bronx Tale" is only one of many gangster movies to be filmed over the years, but because the story was written by someone who grew up in the Bronx during that era, it has a gritty realism that is often hard to attain. An award-winning cast and themes that most people can identify with make this a movie that was rightly nominated for a spot on AFI's Top Ten Gangster Films roster.

Rating 4 out of 5