Albino Alligator (1996)
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The film is also a classic tale of inhumanity, on how far people need to or will go to save their own skin, on choices. It sounds cliché, but the movie doesn't come across that way in the least. Overall, I recommend the film for a lazy Saturday afternoon, like it was for me.
But the movie suggests Spacey should learn about reading scripts next time. The movie harks back to films like PETRIFIED FOREST, but is little more than a clone of them, and writer Christian Forte often falls back on obscenities to substitute for character development and plot. And some of the scenes strain credulity, like the ending.
A gang of crooks. The perfect plan. It all goes wrong. They're in trouble. The police are outside. They're cornered. What are they gonna do now?
The movie seems like it's trying to be a combination of the acting workshop, the "indie" film and the theater.
It's the kind of things that actors love--it's kind of like a workshop or a play because it mostly consists of tight focusing on the actors acting... acting angry, tense, scared, conversing, scheming, planning--giving the performers a lot of free range to really ham it all up.
A trio of crooks, one leader, one goon, one brother, come up with a big heist scheme... and a monkey wrench is thrown into the works. To top things off, there's a bit of a "fender-bender" and one of the crooks in flung through the back of the windshield.
The cops are on their tail and they stumble into a bar named poetically (and leadenly) "Dino's Last Chance."
Spacey, as a director, tries to keep the focus on the actors' performances and delivery of dialouge. He pans over to a bright passion-red cigarette ad of a smoking and smoldering Bogart. And he keeps all the violence off-screen, really.
I think that was a mistake. Focusing on the intensity and gruesome violent scenes would have given the movie some edge.
The problem with the movie is that it moves too slow and suffers from miscasting in almost every role. Matt Dillon ("Drugstore Cowboy" and "Wild Things") seems too young and too idealistic to be the leader of this gang.
Gary Sinese seems to brooding and deep in thought to be a spineless tag-along with these guys and Joe Mantaga is effective as the traditional routine foul-swearing mad-dog police lieutenant who's all thumbs, but he isn't given anything to really do here.
William Fischter is the only actor who is believable in his role as a brainless grunt who just wants to spill blood.
And the crooks are in a tense situation where they either go to jail or they try to think of some way out of this.
Spacey lacks the ability to create a lot of tension and keep it going. The characters are mostly chatting away, trying to think of a plan... and they're to calm and too articulate. There's even a scene where the crooks are playing pool with a whole swarm of armed cops right outside, ready to strike. At one point, one of the crooks even call the police who are right outside the bar. Oh brother. Oh bother.
These cops are going to either blow them away or going to lock them up. Shouldn't the holed-up crooks be a little scared, a little uneasy? Meanwhile, all the real action is happening inside.
Someone whips out a gun, a baseball bat, which leads to an ugly confrontation off-screen and there's one more casualty that happens that's... well, kinda sad. But...
Faye Dunaway also should have spent more time with a dialect coach, improving on her New Orleans accent. Skeet Ullrich is fine in a smaller part.
A cop listening in reaches for a pack of matches at the absolute worst time is a nice look. And so is a scene where someone goes right through the rear windshield.
The dialouge is obviously trying to go for a David Mamet approach and it's as profane, but never as realistic or as insightful. I'm guessing Christian Forte is a fan Mamet fan.
The movie feels like too much of what it really is... a really low-budget movie with an actor behind the camera for the first time directing other actors from a script that's "not bad, but needs a few more re-writes." Spacey shows he's not a terrible director, but he lacks a sort of feel for "shaping a movie" and it feels like he's just filming actors act.
These actors are all talented and could work with the material, but they all feel out of place. As I said before, the movie really suffers from miscasting.
I don't mean that the wrong actors were cast. I think they found just the right cast, but placed them in all the wrong roles. I think switching some of the roles would've helped immensely.
Having veteran mob actor Joe Mantagna play the leader of the pack, Gary Sinese as the angry police lieutenant outside on his bullhorn giving orders and barking at his troops, keeping Fischter in his "bloodthirsty goon" part and Matt Dillion as the sacrificial lamb. That would have been a big improvement.
When some actors direct, it works. They can even win Oscars for it. But a lot of the time, when actors direct, they have a tendency to just focus on the performances. Just shoot the actors acting.
Sometimes it works... but they need a good showcase for it. An excuse for it.
Hostage situations are all pretty much the same in real life just like coming-of-age stories so it's only natural that movies about them will go from point A to point B as well.
There are a few really great entries into this genre.' Spacey himself appeared in a similar movie about hostage situations: "The Negotiator."
This certainly won't become a cult classic, let alone one of AFI's 100. Still, it does have a few nice moments and personal touches, but in the end, it's instantly forgettable and the kind of movie that would play best on regular TV. It's just not worth going out of your way to see.
I give a 3 out of 10.
Spacey's other directorial credit, "Beyond The Sea" was reportedly a better effort. Hmmm... maybe it's true. You need to fail before you succeed.
--One Bad Alabaster Crocodile, Dane Youssef
Spacey was obviously drawn to the clear theatricality of much of the action taking place on one set, in effect on one stage. It's hence very talky and stagy, though Spacey is careful to keep the camera moving in interesting ways. The few outdoors scenes too are shot with great visual style. Combining a keen eye, together with his understanding of actors and acting, Spacey will probably at some point bring his directorial talents to fruition. Hopefully he will be more fortunate as far as a suitable screenplay is concerned.
Matt Dillon in the lead does a fair job. As is often the case with him, he manages some moments of excellence, but on the whole is capable rather than brilliant. (He sustained an exceptional performance is the "Saint of Fort Washington" and surprised many with "Drugstore Cowboy".). It's as if there is a depth to him which he seems to have a lot of trouble reaching. There is a brief scene in "Albino Alligator" in which he talks to himself in a facing mirror. It's a moment which reveals those depths which so often seem to elude him.
The other players do as well as one would expect. Gary Sinise is superb as Dillon's elder brother, William Fichtner is truly edgy and sinister and Faye Dunaway's bartender has a ring of truth to it.
Despite all this talent and a story with possibilities, this is not one to seek out.
This film is ideal for a rainy evening when you have nothing better to do. It will certainly entertain you for an hour and a half and you will want to know what happens, but you won't stay awake at night thinking about this film. Albino Alligator is a film like there are so many: a nice little diddy, but quickly forgotten.
If this film is on and you don't have anything better to do, by all means watch. But don't rent this film. There are so many better films available.
However, its clear why it was another 8 years before spacey decided to try directing a movie again. This movie fails on so many levels. In a film where there is not much action and most of the scenes are shot in a couple of locations, it is imperative that suspense and continuity are provided by the director. Not so here, the great cast is horribly under-used, none more so than the great, late John Spencer, the plot is so run of the mill and nothing you haven't seen in a hundred other TV movies. There is so little character development you end up not caring for any of the protagonists. At least we know spacey has a lot of mates and clout in Hollywood studios to get away with a poor flick like this
The movie has a decent cast, but a very slow storyline. 3 petty criminals get involved in a bungle, kill 2 cops and need to find a hideout. They stumble across a basement bar (think of "Cheers") early in the morning and quickly take the few drinkers and workers hostage. They are soon trapped with only one entrance and cops swarming. How will they escape? See it and find out (or read a review with spoilers and save yourself one and a half hours).
At the time this film was made, Kevin Spacey was hot, very hot. His performances in Seven, Swimming with Sharks, and The Usual Suspects had brought him not only rave reviews, but an Academy Award. His want to direct, this inherent heat, plus his ability to attract additional star power, namely Faye Dunaway, Matt Dillon, and Gary Sinise, and a spec script from a first time writer had the financial backing it needed.
Maybe Albino Alligator would have been a weak film in even the most accomplished hands, it certainly is a weak film in this first time director's. The premise is sketchy, the through line distorted and vague. Some of the characterizations seem forced, or contrived, as if, for example, Faye Dunaway (or Gary Sinise)'s part were quickly created or expanded to accommodate their agreeing to particpate.
Many good young film makers are making daring, exciting, edgy films right now. This is not one of them.
you had everything a director could ask for. This film has a great setting - a bar in New Orleans. A great story - a hostage thriller inside a bar but the patrons and staff at the bar are not what they seem like. There is a brilliant twist as well. The dialogues were great. It has a great cast - Matt Dillon, Faye Dunaway, Viggo Mortensen, Emmet Walsh and William Fichtner. What could go wrong? Well, the direction was crap. I mean how scenes were shot. Where the camera is placed. How tension is built. What the actors are doing. How the scenes are edited. How the background score was used. All of this contributes to making a film great. You failed in all these areas, Kevin.
The film did begin with a bang. The action scenes were terrific. But the drama inside the bar soon becomes uninteresting due to bad direction. And the actors mumbled too much at times. The scenes outside the bar with the police officers and the news reporters were not particularly well written. I am not saying it was utter crap. It was interesting for a while. This is another film Tarantino might have been inspired by when he made The Hateful Eight.
Best Regards, Pimpin.
The film asks the dramatic question: Would you kill an innocent person to save your life? It's an intriguing question that deserves a much better screenplay. It also deserves a much better answer than offered by the filmmakers.
The screenplay is a mess. What should be a character-driven story seems largely driven by unlikely coincidences.
Much of the action occurs off screen. A burglar alarm is tripped, a character commits suicide and a character commits murder – all off screen. These are three points that alter the course of the plot, but the audience doesn't quite know why they happened. The burglars seem to have tripped the alarm trying to gain access. If so, the police wouldn't be able to charge them with much, unless they have prior warrants. They could have simply split up and walked away in separate directions. They might have dropped their weapons and lock picks down a sewer grating. Instead, they call attention to themselves by speeding away in a stolen car.
The character motivations are unclear. An international criminal arranges a meeting at closing time in a basement bar with no back exit. The person he is supposed to meet never shows. A possible exit has been covered over with cinder blocks. Unless the cores are filled with concrete and steel bars (which is uncommon), cinder blocks are fairly easy to break with a sledgehammer, claw hammer or anything reasonably hard. With enough shells, they could break through with the shotgun. But they don't even try.
The police procedures make no sense at all. The plan for escape made sense in the Bill Murray comedy "Quick Change," but not in a serious drama, although the trope worked reasonably well in "16 Blocks."
The least sensible and least satisfying part is the answer to the dramatic question. One character commits suicide, presumably because he's been betrayed and he refuses to kill innocent people. One person is a sociopath, so doesn't face a moral dilemma. One character is given a revolver and given a choice between killing an innocent victim and going free, or dying. But one would think holding a loaded weapon would offer a third option. This is the climatic moment, but it occurs off screen. The characters who choose to kill an innocent person do survive, while those who do not die.
"Buried" was produced four years later with a much smaller budget of $3MM. It was gritty, compelling and effective. AA is not nearly as effective. The difference is primarily due to the caliber of the scripts.
The film looks more like a stage play than a feature film. Most of the exterior shots could be eliminated without severely damaging the story. Since the exteriors really show the budgetary limitations, the film might actually have been improved.
The movie has a good cast. It's not sufficiently compelling to engage the audience, but neither is it sufficiently egregious to completely alienate.
First off, it doesn't appear to be actually filmed in New Orleans. We see a couple of stock shots, the bridges and a few streetcars, but the movie takes place almost completely in a small basement bar, and New Orleans doesn't have basement bars. The water table is so high they bury bodies above ground.
Second, the petty crooks end up in the bar around closing time, to get care for an injured buddy, terrorizing the four occupants. The cops are alerted and they have to try to figure out how to escape from a small bar with no rear exit and no windows.
I came away unsatisfied with my viewing experience.
SPOILERS: In the end it turns out the cops were after a different set of major crooks and when the survivors finally got out around daybreak the cops didn't even try to arrest them.
The term "Albino Alligator" is explained in the story and has some character parallels. This is an enjoyable directorial debut for Mr. Spacey. However, the actors appear to bounce around a lot, and a hidden rifle could have been handled better. Three big "secrets" are revealed - the most important could have been "introduced" along with the opening robbery, for maximum tension; let's anticipate that explosive confrontation. Of the other character relationships, one is a surprise and the other is not; neither adds anything by being held back. Also, the "hero" we're left with at the end would probably be unmasked in real life. But, this is the movies, and the story is engaging.
****** Albino Alligator (9/9/96) Kevin Spacey ~ Matt Dillon, Faye Dunaway, William Fichtner, Viggo Mortensen
The Cellular BluRay at 16 X 9 was excellent but for the aspect ratio.
I don't know if this is a ruse to force cinephiles to pony up for another Blu Ray later or not. But I do hate it.
I have seen this a few times and never have enjoyed it. It is so extremely slow that it's hard to set through. Kevin Spacey behind the camera offered nothing. The acting was good, but with such a boring movie it didn't matter. Faye Dunaway, M. Emmet Walsh, William Fitchner, John Spencer, Viggo Mortensen, Skeet Ulrich, Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise all did good, Matt Dillon is a horrible actor and should not be in anything. The music was horrible and made this bad film even worse.
This movie is pure drama, 95 percent of the film is spent in the bar with the three idiot bad guys trying to figure out what to do next, it's a hard film to watch because it is so slow.2/10 stars