It’s definitely the spring of James Gandolfini.
Famously known far and wide as Tony Soprano, Gandolfini used to worry that he’d always be typecast as a lurking Mafia chieftain or just a plain brute.
But look what happened: Tony has a Tony nomination for Best Actor in the play ‘God of Carnage.’ On Sunday, it’s possible he could surprise everyone and wind up taking the gold statue home.
And next Friday, June 12, Gandolfini really wipes the slate clean. He plays the Mayor of New York City in the remake of ‘The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3.’ His mayor, accompanied by a put-upon deputy (John Benjamin Hickey, cheated out of a Tony nomination this season, by the way, from ‘Mary Stuart’), is quite the modern creation. He’s a billionaire who’s not seeking re-election’sort of Bloomberg in reverse.
Gandolfini’s mayor also gets off a good line about Rudy Giuliani that’s already met with laughter in advance screenings. The former mayor and would-be governor/senator should take heed of this in-theatre referendum.
But good for Gandolfini: his mayor’who has no character name’is no Tony Soprano. He’s smart and sophisticated. He even comes up with a key revelation that kicks the movie into its next phase. In most movies the politicians come off as idiots. Not so this time. If only our real-life mayor were this quick on his feet, we wouldn’t have people sitting on plastic garden chairs in the middle of Times Square!
All of the new ‘Pelham,’ by the way, is cast with top-notch character actors in the tradition of the original film. That cast looks like a championship team in retrospect: Walter Matthau, a pre ‘Jaws,’ post ‘Sting’ Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, Earl Hindman, James Broderick (Matthew’s father), Jerry Stiller, Doris Roberts, Kenneth McMillan, and Tony Roberts as that assistant mayor.
Director Tony Scott has at least the same depth in his new cast. He’s got stars Denzel Washington and John Travolta totally reinvented as characters. Denzel either gained a bunch of weight or put on a chub-suit to become a convincing subway motorman. It’s Travolta’s best character work since ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Michael.’ And then Scott has the great John Turturro, Michael Rispoli, Luis Guzman, Frank Wood, Brian Haley, Ramon Rodriguez, Aunjanue Ellis, and a terrific find from ‘The Wire’ named Gbenga Akinnagbe. Denzel and Turturro, by the way, are great together, and trump the memory of their other picture together, Spike Lee’s ‘Mo’ Better Blues.’
Just wait and see if 20 years from now, this cast doesn’t look a championship team.