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Criminally Overlooked: “City of Industry”

January 27, 2013

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Ah, City of Industry, you little-loved mid-‘90s gem, you…You know, I can’t figure out why this movie doesn’t get more love. It’s got Lucy Liu topless in it. Wait–goddamn it, I wasn’t going to lead with that! Okay, but it is kinda surprising that this movie had vanished off the grid as thoroughly at it has. I mean, this movie barely exists on DVD, meanwhile you can buy The Saint on Blu-Ray, iTunes and Amazon On-Demand, and, uh, probably have it beamed directly into your brain. The hell? I mean, that was a flop of equal or lesser value. Well, whatever the reason, City of Industry deserves a second look (or a first one). Let’s run down the reasons, quick…

* It’s a perfectly simple, effective machine: Okay, so basically, City of Industry is the Smith & Wesson Chief’s Special of movies. Compact, uncomplicated, and it gets the job done (within 25 yards or so). Okay, so the simile breaks down a bit if you put too much weight on it. Still, City’s simplicity makes it an intra-genre successor to the legacy of pulp novelists like Jim Thompson and Gerald Petievich. The plot could be written on a drink-coaster: retired thief Roy Egan (Harvey Keitel) gets involved in a heist run by his brother Lee (Timothy Hutton). The heist goes fine, but afterwards, one of the partners–the psychotic Skip (Stephen Dorff)—double-crosses them and kills Lee, putting Roy on the path for vengeance. See, that was like, two sentences. Coulda been one if I put a little effort into it.

* It’s perfectly cast: Keitel reigns in the craziness he generally reserves for Abel Fererra, and instead plays a seemingly-aloof, mostly-impenetrable hood. His one big scene is a masterwork of implosive intensity. As his nemesis, Dorff plays Skip as a pure force of nature.  It takes a lot to be a credible villain against Harvey Keitel, but Dorff plays Skip as the kind of guy who’ll do something hotheaded like kill Keitel’s brother in front of him, because fuck him! In the periphery, Famke Janssen makes a nice hardboiled dame, and her scenes with Keitel have real chemistry. Hell, even Elliot Gould makes an appearance. Elliot effing Gould!

* Its portrayal of L.A.:  No one is going to mistake City director John Irvin (he of Raw Deal fame) as an artist, but in its better moments, City brings to mind some truly great noir directors like Howard Hawkes and Michael Mann. The LA of this movie genuinely is a city of industry, and everyone in it lives in the shadow of those industries. From cruddy, slouching A-frame houses where these two-bit hoods and their families dream of a better life to the towering, toxic, Boschian refinery where Skip holes up, industry—oil, business, crime—is a machine that grinds everyone up.

* Harvey Keitel totally pwns some dude without ever taking his cigarette out of his mouth: He totally does. He just destroys this guy, all while a cigarette is clenched in his mouth. It’s awesome.

* The soundtrack: As if it wasn’t frustrating enough just finding this movie, the soundtrack is damn near impossible to dig up, unless you want a used CD from Amazon. That’s too bad, since Irvin uses a lot of ‘90s trip-hop to give the movie a veil of ethereality that keeps it from becoming too gritty. The opening travelogue through the LA Freeway system set to Massive Attack’s “Three” perfectly sets a mood of emotional disconnect,

Meanwhile Lush’s “Last Night (Darkest Hour Mix)” makes the perfect accompaniment for Roy’s shell-shocked wanderings through South Central’s barrio. And “Rocco (Sing for a Drink Mix)” by Death in Vegas runs the movie through with the perfect element of elegant dread. Also, perennial ‘90s ecstacy-trip companion piece “Overcome” by Tricky makes an appearance at the strip club where Lucy Liu works. Which brings us to…

* Lucy Liu gets naked in this movie: Yeah, there’s really nothing wrong that, and almost no film that wouldn’t benefit by a scene of Lucy in black leather and a dog collar. Of course, Lucy’s appeal has always been more friendly than sexy—more girl-next-door than vamp—but, you know, I’ll still take it.

Yeah, so that’s City of Industry. How come you haven’t seen it yet? Do you have some weird aversion to seeing Lucy Liu naked? I didn’t think so.

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