Saint Michael of the City

Saint Michael of the City
Saint Michael of the City
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James Gray made a name for himself with crime dramas like Saint Michael Of The City. Small-time mob stories were a dime a dozen in the late 1990s/early 2000s, but as The Sopranos took off, cinema moved on to different things. However, they’ve recently been making something of a comeback in indie productions. Do co-writer/director Jeff Stewart and co-writer/co-star Kevin Interdonato breathe new life into the material, or is this just another stale retread?

Seven years ago Michael (Adam Ratcliffe) left his small town life behind. But now he’s back and not much has changed. The gang still strong-arms money out of business owners; everyone involved is still quick to fight. Paulie (Brian Anthony Wilson) runs the show and is glad to see him back because he always had a good head on his shoulders. Cuz (Interdonato) is also happy about it — though he spends most of his time complaining to Michael that the operation has grown thanks to him but Paulie never acknowledges what he’s done.

But reconnecting with his one true love throws Michael for a loop. Diane (Jensen Jacobs) opened her dream salon and married Paulie because she “had things he wanted, and he had things [she] needed.” He knows an apology won’t be enough but still wants back into her life. But old habits die hard, and before too long Cuz is taking him on jobs roughing people up for money again. Still, hanging over every interaction and conversation is one question: why did Michael come back now? What does he hope to get out of coming home?

As expected from films of this type, Saint Michael Of The City hits most of the familiar beats associated with them. Pressure to rejoin the organization? Check. Yearning for an unattainable love? Present and accounted for. Secret that tests loyalties revealed about halfway through? You betcha. But Stewart and Interdonato make each moment feel earned. The conversations flow freely, almost seeming improvised; this naturalistic atmosphere makes everything believable.

The cast takes the grounded script and anchors it. Ratcliffe is likable and appealing; he imbues Michael with a sweetness that makes everyone’s excitement over his return seem earned. Interdonato, odd name aside, plays Cuz as insecure but fun. Jensen is sweet, and it’s easy to see why Michael has never gotten over her character (which might be because she’s the only person in the movie who doesn’t yell every line). Ava Paloma plays Michael’s sister and has a moment 20-30 minutes from the end that is both defensive and sincere. Wilson is tough yet sincere enough to be a mob boss and not too terrible of a husband.

Stewart’s direction gives the actors room to breathe; he and director of photography Jamaal Green use several simple camera tricks to accentuate moments — when Michael and Diane first run into each other again at a diner, for example, the slowly shifting focus highlights what’s crucial as she walks closer to the only man she’s ever loved (also also: it looks really cool). Unfortunately, though, too much of the film is lit in a very dull manner — for being so focused on dirty deeds, it sure is bright out, not using shadow all too often.

St. Michael’s City is not very original, but it feels true to these people. In fact, they’re realized well by a great cast who brings them alive beautifully. The direction is about how everyone reacts to what’s happening–though the lighting is a bit of a letdown. All in all, however, this crime drama wins.

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