“The Godfather: Part II” (1974) starring Al Pacino & Robert De Niro

[Don Cicci is threatening to kill young Vito]

Signora Andolini: But Vito is only nine. And dumb-witted. The child cannot harm you.

The early buzz on The Godfather (1972) was so positive that a sequel was planned before filming ended. Francis Ford Coppola re-wrote the entire script over a weekend b/c Al Pacino said he didn’t like the original and wouldn’t do the film. Later, he admitted to Coppola that he hadn’t actually disliked the first script all that much, but knew it could be better. Pacino was paid $500,000 plus a 10% share of the profits; he’d earned only $25,000 for the first film. Since Coppola had such a difficult time directing The Godfather, he asked to pick a different director for the sequel (and take the title of producer for himself). He chose Martin Scorsese, but the film executives rejected the idea; Coppola agreed to direct again and was given a lot of creative freedom.

Only the scenes about the young Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) have any basis in Mario Puzo’s book. The story re: Michael (Al Pacino) and family in Las Vegas is unique to the film. De Niro (just 30 y.o.) had screen tested for Sonny; Coppola was so impressed that he called him back again to audition for Vito. De Niro (who is 25% Italian) lived in Sicily for 3 mos. and studied the Sicilian language for 4 mos. – wow! This was the first sequel to receive 5 Academy Award noms for acting: Talia Shire (Best Actress in a Suporting Role), Lee Strasberg (Best Actor in a Supporting Role), Michael V. Gazzo (Best Actor in a Supporting Role) and Pacino (Best Actor); De Niro took home the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

Sen. Geary: I despise your masquerade, the dishonest way you pose yourself. You and your whole f*****g family.

Michael: We’re both part of the same hypocrisy, senator, but never think it applies to my family.

The communion party here is a stark contrast to Connie’s wedding in Part I; it is out on Lake Tahoe (and for show/publicity), lacks culture (Frank Pentangeli laments that there is no traditional Italian food/songs), and (above all) seems emotionally cold. Sen. Geary (G.D. Spradlin) intentionally mispronounces “Corleone.” There is the awkward photoshoot w/ the donation check Michael gave to the local university. Before he died, Vito admitted to Michael that he hoped he’d a “big shot” who “pulled the strings” (like a governor or senator). We see Michael rebuffing the demands of the (openly racist) Sen. Geary, and making demands of his own. He is seeking respectability (still) and also trying to expand his empire to Cuba (w/ the help of Hyman Roth, played by renown acting teacher Lee Strasberg). Pacino requested that Strasberg take on this role, as he admired the man’s talent so much!

[during the play ‘Senza Mamma’]

Genco Abbandando: Vito, how do you like my little angel? Isn’t she beautiful?

Vito Corleone: She’s very beautiful. To you, she’s beautiful. For me, there’s only my wife and son.

In flashback, we see the life of young Vito Andolini; his father was killed for insulting a powerful man, Don Cicci. Soon after, his older brother (in hiding) was killed. When his mother (boldly) appealed to Don Cicci, she was shot/killed also. Vito was hidden by some (brave) neighbors and travelled alone to Ellis Island. The clerk thinks that Vito’s surname is the name of his hometown (Corleone). Then the boy is put into quarantine for several weeks in a tiny room from where he can see the Statue of Liberty. Wow, what an impactful series of scenes (w/o much dialogue)!

Michael Corleone: My father taught me many things here – he taught me in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

As one astute reviewer noted: “The Godfather Part II is not really a movie about the mafia, it is a movie about a man’s life long struggle.” While Vito’s empire was built on respect, Michael’s empire is built on fear. Look at the way Michael treats his own family- yikes! He doesn’t even acknowledge the fiance of his younger sister Connie (who he compares to a “whore”). Connie (Talia Shire) has lived overseas, trying to escape issues at home; she hasn’t spent much time w/ her kids (which concerns Mama). As for older brother Fredo (John Cazale), he’s still handling the hotel/casino end of the business, but wants to do more. His blonde/buxom wife gets drunk and flirts openly w/ other men. Michael is embarrassed by her behavior; Fredo is emasculated as he can’t control his wife (w/o intervention from bodyguards). There is an (obvious) distance between Michael and his adopted older brother/lawyer, Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), who is no longer privy to certain aspects of the biz. Kay (Diane Keaton) is still around, BUT we can sense the tension in the marriage; Michael had promised her that the biz would be “legitimate” several years ago. Then there is the audacious shooting in their bedroom; hitmen were able to come onto the estate w/o being noticed!

Vito Corleone: I make him an offer he don’ refuse. Don’ worry.

In 1920, Vito is already married w/ a baby son (Sonny) and delivering groceries in Little Italy; he is a quiet and observant young man. His best friend Genco (Frank Sivero) takes him to a show to see the actress he has a crush on. They see a flashily-dressed local man, Don Fanucci (Gaston Moschin), threatening the actress and her father backstage w/ a knife; Genco said they need to get out of there. It turns out that Don Fanucci is pushing around local businessmen; Vito loses his job b/c his boss (who is like a father to him) is forced to hire the don’s nephew. Vito handles this disappointment well, not even taking the box of food offered to him. We sense that somehow he will find a way to provide for this family. Enter Clemenza (a very young Bruno Kirby- best known for When Harry Met Sally), who is a petty criminal who asks Vito for help. Vito seizes the opportunity, hiding a bedsheet folded up w/ handguns in his apt.

This is NOT your typical sequel; it’s a mix of a sequel and prequel (as many viewers have commented). The two stories have distinct looks, as they take place in different time periods (mainly the early 1920s and late 1950s), and b/c of their different tones. Though Michael’s world is much bigger in scope than young Vito’s, it lacks the warmth of a happy home/family and close friendships/connections. Michael has distanced himself so far from his Italian/immigrant roots that he no longer recognizes the values of his father’s generation. Is Michael the villain and Vito the hero (some viewers have wondered)? De Niro (youthful/slim/handsome) knows how to play subtlety; he just becomes the character! You will even see a few gestures that Brando used, but they come off as natural.

[1] Al Pacino’s performance is quiet and solemn… He is cold and ruthless, with a whole contrast from the idealistic innocent war hero we initially met at the beginning of the first film…

De Niro’s rise, from an orphan child by a family feud back in Italy to a hood in New York and his position as a respected Don, provides a welcome break from Pacino’s relentless attitude…

[2] Al Pacino is the standout in the ensemble cast and its amazing how his eyes have changed from the first part. They are now cold , ruthless and unemotional and betray the price which Michael Corleone has paid for power.

[3] Without spoiling, I will simply say the Robert De Niro as the young Vito is the best acting performance of all time, a role for which he won a richly deserved Oscar.

[4] Nino Rota’s musical score plays an even greater role in this equal but different successor than it did in the predecessor. Yearning, lamenting, stimulating bygone ages, see how infectiously Nino Rota’s music affects our sentiments for the savage events on screen. It is the pulse of the films.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“The Godfather” (1972) starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Diane Keaton, & Robert Duvall

Don Corleone: …a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.

The Godfather is “Don” Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando- age 47), the head of the Corleone mafia family in New York. Brando wanted to make his character “look like a bulldog,” so he stuffed his cheeks w/ cotton for his audition. For the filming, he wore a mouthpiece made by a dentist. On the day of his daughter Connie’s (Talia Shire) wedding, he is meeting w/ several members of his (Italian-American) community on his estate on Staten Island. There is a saying that the Don’s adopted son/lawyer, Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall- age 40 and wearing a bad hairpiece), says: “no Sicilian can refuse a favor at his daughter’s wedding day.” Michael (Al Pacino- not yet famous at age 31), the Don’s youngest son/decorated WWII Marine, is also present w/ his blonde/WASP girlfriend, Kay Adams (Diane Keaton- only 25). Pacino and Keaton started dating during filming and were a couple for 5 years. Michael seems thoughtful and introverted, as well as uninterested in the family business. Don Corleone is an influential man w/ connections to businessmen, politicians, judges, and celebs. He can be kind/generous to those who give him respect, but ruthless against those who don’t. When a dangerous rival wants to sell drugs, and needs the Don’s agreement, he says no way! His oldest son Sonny (James Caan) seems to disagree. What follows is a clash between the Don’s “old-school” values and the ways of the new generation.

Don Corleone [to Sollozzo]: I said that I would see you because I had heard that you were a serious man, to be treated with respect. But I must say no to you and let me give you my reasons. It’s true I have a lot of friends in politics, but they wouldn’t be so friendly if they knew my business was drugs instead of gambling which they consider a harmless vice. But drugs, that’s a dirty business.

I saw some scenes (over the years) of this iconic movie; however, I don’t recall seeing it fully until this past week! Director Francis Ford Coppola (only 33) had received some notice for one earlier movie; he was young and untested like much of the cast. He wasn’t enthusiastic about making this movie (at first); he thought the book by Mario Puzo was too sensational. I learned that he feared being fired by the studio for the first 2 weeks of filming! The unique (dark) lighting chosen by cinematographer Gordon Willis also made the execs worried, until they were convinced that this showed the shady ways of the Corleones. Willis earned the nickname “The Prince of Darkness” w/ the choices that he used; it turned out well (of course). Brando (due to heavy prosthetic makeup) is usually lit from above. Michael is brightly-lit in the first act of the film (before the Don is shot). Then the lighting scheme changes; we see half of his face in shadow. Once he has transitioned to the head of the family, dark shadows appear over his eyes. Caan (playing a loud/hot-headed man) is usually more well-lit than Duvall (who is calm, soft-spoken and tactful in his speech). Did you know that Caan improvised the part where Sonny throws the FBI photographer’s camera to the ground? Kay’s face usually looks bright; Keaton was lit from the side. However, I wasn’t a fan of the wigs (or hairdos) they chose for Kay. She is dressed in shades of red for most of the movie (a red/white spotted dress at the wedding, a maroon dress at the hotel dinner, and a bright red hat and coat when she goes to the estate).

Michael: My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power, like a president or senator.

Kay: Do you know how naive you sound, Michael? Presidents and senators don’t have men killed.

Michael: Oh. Who’s being naive, Kay?

There is much to admire here, but the most important thing is that we really care for these characters and go on a fascinating journey. As Roger Ebert commented (after the 25th anniversary): “In this closed world, The Godfather is the good guy. He is the hero that we root for.” I was esp. impressed by Brando when the Don becomes injured/weak; as for the tough-guy moments (we know he can do those well). Pacino (youthful/handsome) gives a nuanced performance (which may be a surprise to younger viewers); it’s almost all in the eyes (as we find w/ the finest of screen actors). We don’t see the angry/volatile side of Pacino (Coppola’s first choice for the role) until the final act when he yells at Kay. I learned that the studios wanted Robert Redford or Ryan O’Neill for the role of Michael- LOL! Martin Sheen (w/ long hair and a mustache) auditioned for the role also; you can see some clips of screen tests on YouTube. All the supporting cast (incl. those who came from open calls, such as Abe Vigoda) suit their roles well. Look out for two veterans from the Golden Age of Hollywood- Richard Conte (the smooth-talking Don Barzini) and Sterling Hayden (the racist/crooked cop- Chief McCluskey). Both Conte and Hayden are in fine shape; they were known for noir films (I got into this genre over quarantine life). Fredo (John Cazale) doesn’t have a big role here, but I learned that he will feature more in The Godfather: Part II. He received much acclaim (from his peers and critics), died rather young, and was engaged to Meryl Streep.

This movie appeals to many people across the decades all around the world. One critic said: “It’s a simple story about a king and his three sons.” I’m sure it was rare to see a well-developed story of immigrants and first-gen Americans (w/ dark hair and olive/tan skin tones), even in the early 1970s. Having a Italian-American director must’ve been a great asset; it was Coppola’s idea to incorporate a real Italian-speaking wedding band, non-actors (incl. members of his own family), scenes which reflect everyday life (w/ kids running around, cooking, domestic disputes, etc.) There is the gorgeous/romantic sequence shot in Sicily where (some critics say) Michael finds true love (Appolonia) and happiness for the first time. When I saw the chaste courtship scenes between Michael and Appolonia (and her extended family) , I was reminded of the stories of my own family (parents, aunties, and uncles) who grew up in Bangladesh. This is a must-see film you can’t refuse!

Mississippi Burning (1988) starring Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe, & Frances McDormand

1964. When America was at war with itself. – Tag line

Mississippi Burning was very controversial when first released; in this time (after the Trump administration), it resonates stronger than ever. Some younger readers may never have heard of this film; it is fiction, but based on a real case (labeled “Mississippi Burning” by the FBI). The film is inspired by the 1964 murder by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) of three Congress of Racial Equity (CORE) field workers who were registering Black voters in Mississippi: a Black man named James Chaney (age 21) and two white (Jewish) men- Michael Schwerner (age 20) and Andrew Goodman (age 24). Some critics felt that many facts were altered or left out. There is much to admire re: this movie, though to our modern eyes, the lack of a fully-fleshed out Black character may be problematic. Director Spike Lee didn’t like it; he felt the preacher’s son (Aaron) was a “magical Negro” trope. On the other hand, this was Roger Ebert’s choice for the best film of 1988. You know it made a big impact (overseas), b/c it was (unofficially) remade into a Bollywood film, Aakrosh (2010).

Mayor Tilman: You like baseball, do you, Anderson?

Anderson: Yeah, I do. You know, it’s the only time when a black man can wave a stick at a white man and not start a riot.

When you think about it, 1964 is NOT too far back in time from 1988. Barry Norman (BBC film critic) described the (harrowing) opening of the film as “pure cinema, something no other medium could do so effectively.” Then we shift to the (much lighter) scene w/ the main characters- FBI agents Mr. Anderson (Gene Hackman) and Mr. Ward (Willem Dafoe- just 32). Don Johnson campaigned heavily for the role that went to Dafoe- LOL! Anderson (older/rumpled) studies some papers from a folder and sings a KKK song; Ward (younger/crisply-suited) isn’t amused. Anderson is making fun of the KKK, but Ward says: “I could do w/o the cabaret.” Anderson is a former small-town sheriff; Ward is a former DOJ attorney (“a Kennedy boy,” as Anderson comments). These men don’t know each other well and are mismatched, the viewer knows right away.

When they reach the small town, the agents are met w/ long/angry stares and outright hostility from the locals. Ward makes a (Northern/liberal) mistake; he goes to sit at the “Colored” section of the busy diner (NOT heeding the warning from Anderson, who knows the South). The young Black man sitting beside him becomes nervous and refuses to answer Ward’s questions; all eyes are on them. In the sheriff’s office, they first meet Deputy Pell (Brad Dourif), who isn’t too welcoming. Dourif makes some interesting choices w/ his role; he doesn’t always play it tough (we see that Pell is being influenced by more stronger personalities). Suddenly, Sheriff Stuckey (Gailard Sartain) pops out of his office, and starts breezily chatting w/ Anderson. Ward corrects him after Stuckey (the epitome of a fat, uncaring, racist cop) assumes Anderson is in charge of the investigation. In the barbershop, Anderson meets Mayor Tilman (R. Lee Ermey), who is more casually racist. In the motel lodge (later that night), we see the agents drinking and sharing stories. Anderson (matter-of-factly/softly) reveals something about his childhood growing up in the South.

Anderson: Where does it come from? All this hatred?

Anderson: You know, when I was a little boy, there was an old Negro farmer that lived down the road from us, name of Monroe. And he was… well, I guess he was just a little luckier than my daddy was. He bought himself a mule. That was a big deal around that town. My daddy hated that mule, ’cause his friends were always kidding him that they saw Monroe out plowing with his new mule, and Monroe was going to rent another field now he had a mule. One morning, that mule showed up dead. They poisoned the water. After that, there wasn’t any mention about that mule around my daddy. It just never came up. One time, we were driving down that road, and we passed Monroe’s place and we saw it was empty. He just packed up and left, I guess, he must of went up North or something. I looked over at my daddy’s face. I knew he done it. He saw that I knew. He was ashamed. I guess he was ashamed. He looked at me and said, “If you ain’t better than a n****r, son, who are you better than?”

Ward: You think that’s an excuse?

Anderson: No it’s not an excuse. It’s just a story about my daddy.

Ward: Where’s that leave you?

Anderson: My old man was just so full of hate that he didn’t know that bein’ poor was what was killin’ him.

A shotgun fires from a screeching car into the motel room! Ward decides that more agents are needed ASAP. The young Black man from the diner is picked up my some (hooded) men, beaten, and imprisoned in a large chicken coop in a field of cotton. (FYI: Since this wasn’t the season for cotton, the crew had to decorate the field w/ bits of cotton.) Then we see the same Black man pushed out of a car in the center of town- sending an (obvious) message to the FBI. The local cops and a group of (suited) FBI agents run to check on the injured man; Stuckey declares that his men will handle the matter. Agents have set up their HQ in the movie theater. Later we see them (along w/ buses of fresh-faced sailors) drag a swamp (a real one w/ mud, bugs, and possible alligators) for dead bodies.

…I didn’t do research. All I did was listen to [Hackman]. He had an amazing capacity for not giving away any part of himself (in read-throughs). But the minute we got on the set, little blinds on his eyes flipped up and everything was available. It was mesmerizing. He’s really believable, and it was like a basic acting lesson. -Frances McDormand

Now this isn’t just a typical “macho” movie; at the heart of it is the wife of the deputy- Mrs. Pell (a young Frances McDormand)- who also runs a hair salon (Gilly’s). Anderson first drops in at the salon, making self-deprecating comments about his hair (w/ its receding hairline). This amuses some of the ladies; Mrs. Pell bluntly points out that the FBI wouldn’t be around if the white men weren’t missing (along w/ Chaney). Later, when Ward and Anderson drop by the Pell’s humble home, we see the (not so pleasant) dynamic between the couple. While Ward interviews her husband, Anderson goes to the kitchen and strikes up a convo w/ Mrs. Pell (in a humble manner, using folksy charm). Later that night, we learn more about both characters when Anderson comes by w/ some wildflowers. We see the romantic chemistry growing between Anderson and Mrs. Pell, despite their ages and the situation. She has to lie to cover for her husband; Anderson realizes that she is lying (and they both look disappointed about it). Before he leaves, he gently touches her hair (a bold, yet vulnerable move). In a previous scene, Anderson had made “a power move” on Deputy Pell; he is working late (or maybe getting into some violence w/ his KKK pals).

Mrs. Pell: It’s ugly. This whole thing is so ugly. Have you any idea what it’s like to live with all this? People look at us and only see bigots and racists. Hatred isn’t something you’re born with. It gets taught. At school, they said segregation what’s said in the Bible… Genesis 9, Verse 27. At 7 years of age, you get told it enough times, you believe it. You believe the hatred. You live it… you breathe it. You marry it.

After being hired by Orion Pictures, Parker made several changes from screenwriter Chris Gerolmo’s original draft (which was “a big/violent detective story”). Parker omitted a Mafia hitman and created Agent Monk. The scene in which Frank Bailey brutally beats a news cameraman was based on an actual event. Parker also wrote a sex scene involving Anderson and Mrs. Pell. The scene was omitted (after Hackman suggested to Parker that the relationship between the two characters be more discreet). Though some close-ups were shot, in the final film, the kiss between Hackman and McDormand is in shadow (at a respectful distance). The music (composed by Trevor Jones) is a very crucial part of this movie; it creates a tense (thriller-like) atmosphere in many scenes. In several key scenes, there is the gospel element. The movie was shot in Alabama and Mississippi, so there is authenticity. We see the old buildings, dust, poverty, rural lands, and (above all) local people (some of whom may had sympathies to the Klan). There are many character actors who add flavor to the story: Kevin Dunn (a young/eager FBI agent coordinating the case), Stephen Tobolowsky (a prominent businessman/KKK leader), Michael Rooker (the unapologetic tough guy/KKK member-Frank Bailey), a teen Darius McCrary (Aaron), Frankie Faison (a respected preacher/Aaron’s father), and Badja Djola (the Black FBI interrogator- Agent Monk). Ward (who is no pushover, despite his by-the-book approach) and Anderson (smarter than he looks) come to respect each other, but it happens slowly; they don’t become “buddy cops.”

“Primal Fear” (1996) starring Richard Gere, Laura Linney, & Edward Norton

Sooner or later a man who wears two faces forgets which one is real. -Tag line

In Chicago, a 19 y.o. former altar boy, Aaron (Edward Norton- in his breakout role), is charged w/ the brutal murder of an archbishop. A well-known criminal lawyer, Martin Vail (Richard Gere), takes on his case pro bono. The prosecution is lead by Marty’s former colleague/ex-gf- Janet Venable (Laura Linney). Aaron was homeless before he was taken in by the religious leader; he’s shy, humble, and speaks w/ a stammer; this could make him look sympathetic to the jury. Marty is convinced that Aaron is innocent, but then he finds a disturbing video that shows Aaron may have had good reason to want the archbishop dead. One day, Aaron lashes out at Molly (Frances McDormand), the psychologist Marty hired to examine him; another personality (Roy) is revealed! With the trial underway, Martin can’t change Aaron’s (not guilty) plea; he tries to find a way to introduce his client’s mental condition.

[Marty is trying to woo Janet again]

Marty: Come on. Let’s go find a bar you can still smoke in.

Janet: Thanks for the invite, but I don’t like one-night stands all that much.

Martin: We saw each other for months.

Janet: It was a one-night stand, Marty. It just lasted six months.

I heard buzz about this film during the 1997 awards season; I never watched it until last week. The cast here is very strong, w/ everyone putting in a fine performance (incl. the minor players). I was (pleasantly) surprised to see Linney (who has great chemistry w/ Gere) and Andre Braugher (who plays Tommy, the PI/former cop). Maura Tierney plays Naomi, Marty’s legal secretary. John Mahoney plays DA Shaughnessy; he was Marty’s former boss. Look out also for a Jon Seda (ageless) as one of Aaron’s pals. The judge is played by Alfre Woodard. Director Gregory Hoblit is known for his work on legal and police dramas.

Marty: [sitting w/ journo in a bar] Why gamble with money when you can gamble with people’s lives? That was a joke. All right, I’ll tell you. I believe in the notion that people are innocent until proven guilty. I believe in that notion because I choose to believe in the basic goodness of people. I choose to believe that not all crimes are committed by bad people. And I try to understand that some very, very good people do some very bad things.

In the first act of the story, we see Marty as confident (bordering on arrogant) and publicity-seeking (followed by a journo doing a profile on him). He thinks his charm will convince Janet to see him again (though she isn’t having it); they flirt w/ and challenge each other. I liked all the scenes w/ Gere and Linney; they conveyed that they had a long relationship (which wasn’t all bad). In the end, we see Marty cut down to size and dejected (Gere’s breathing even changes, one viewer commented); he has been fooled by his manipulative client. Marty wanted so hard to believe in his client.

Marty: [while in Aaron’s solitary confinement room] I speak. You do not speak. Your job is to just sit there and look innocent.

I knew there was some big plot twist, but I thought Aaron and Roy would be two distinct personalities (but it’s Roy only)! Norton’s performance comes off as natural (you can’t see the acting); he gets to let loose in two particularly intense scenes. He worked several years in the theater, so knows how to use his body well (much is done w/ body language here). Norton is 26 y.o. in this movie, but he looks a bit younger (thanks to his haircut, speech, and mannerisms). Over 2,000 young male actors auditioned for the role of Aaron (wow) before Norton was chosen! Gere was so frustrated, so almost quit the movie, as the search continued. Though born in Boston, Norton was raised in the suburban DC area (Columbia, MD). I will check out more of his work; I’ve seen Rounders (w/ Matt Damon) and Birdman (which won some Oscars).

“Malice” (1992) starring Alec Baldwin, Nicole Kidman, & Bill Pullman

Deception. Betrayal. Murder. Some things you never see coming. -Tag line

This is one of several thrillers made during the early 1990s set around husband and wife characters. The films incl. Deceived (1991), Shattered (1991), Mortal Thoughts (1991), Consenting Adults (1992), Unlawful Entry (1992), Presumed Innocent (1990), Guilty as Sin (1993), Sleeping with the Enemy (1991), and A Kiss Before Dying (1991). So far, I’ve only seen Consenting Adults (starring Kevin Kline, Kevin Spacey, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and Rebecca Miller- wife of Daniel Day Lewis) and Sleeping with the Enemy (one of Julia Roberts’ first movies; it spawned 14 remakes internationally). I saw Malice (first time) last week; I never knew it was co-written by Aaron Sorkin (who also wrote A Few Good Men and created one of my fave TV shows- The West Wing)! It was originally intended to be filmed at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA (not Smith College). After reviewing the script, the college president declined, due to the serial rapist subplot. The movie was moved to Smith in Northampton; they only agreed as long as the college name was changed. In the opening, the little house that the young student lives in is the former residence of Pres. Coolidge.

This is the type of film that you have to see twice to get all that’s going on. On the first watch, it’s a compelling psychological thriller w/ twists and turns; the plot contains rape, murder, life-and-death trauma, and a deadly fight (all w/ in the first 45 mins). On the re-watch, you find the things you might’ve missed; it’s a chance to enjoy the terrific performances from the three leads- Alec Baldwin, Nicole Kidman, and Bill Pullman. There are brief appearances by Gwyneth Paltrow (a slacker student/one of her early roles) and Joshua Malina (a medical resident/old friend of Sorkin). Veteran actors George C. Scott and Anne Bancroft have small, yet pivotal, roles. Peter Gallagher plays the lawyer who holds some clues to Tracy’s (mysterious) past.

I’m the new guy around here and I want to make friends, so I’ll say this to you and we’ll start fresh. If you don’t like my jokes, don’t laugh. If you have a medical opinion, then please speak up and speak up loud. But if you ever again tell me or my surgical staff that we’re going to lose a patient, I’m gonna take out your lungs with a fuckin’ ice cream scoop. Do you understand me? -Jed explains to Dr. Robertson (after they operate on the college student/rape survivor)

Andy Safian (Pullman- looking youthful at 40) is an associate dean at a smal college outside Boston that’s being terrorized by a serial rapist. Tracy (Kidman- looking gorgeous as usual) is his younger wife who volunteers as an art teacher in the Pediatrics ward of the local hospital, St. Agnes. They’re newlyweds renovating a Victorian house and need $14K to overhaul its plumbing. Dr. Jed Hill (Baldwin- looking gorgeous also) is the hotshot new surgeon at St. Agnes and a former HS classmate of Andy’s. Jed needs a place to stay; Andy and Tracy need the extra money. Soon, Jed is living on the 3rd floor; his noisy date w/ his surgical nurse, Tanya (Debrah Farentino), is grating on Tracy’s nerves. The rapes continue; Andy is even considered a suspect! Andy’s detective friend, Dana (Bebe Neuwirth), convinces him to come to the police station to eliminate himself as a suspect. Meanwhile, Tracy comes home and collapses from pains to her abdomen (a possible ovarian cyst)!

I have an M.D. from Harvard, I am board certified in cardio-thoracic medicine and trauma surgery, I have been awarded citations from seven different medical boards in New England, and I am never, ever sick at sea. So I ask you; when someone goes into that chapel and they fall on their knees and they pray to God that their wife doesn’t miscarry or that their daughter doesn’t bleed to death or that their mother doesn’t suffer acute neural trama from postoperative shock, who do you think they’re praying to? Now, go ahead and read your Bible, Dennis, and you go to your church, and, with any luck, you might win the annual raffle, but if you’re looking for God, he was in operating room number two on November 17, and he doesn’t like to be second guessed. You ask me if I have a God complex. Let me tell you something: I am God. -Jed declares during the deposition

On my second watch, I saw that there were hints that Jed and Tracy knew each other from before. Jed and Tracy meet in the bathroom when Tracy drops her meds; she angrily asks: “What the hell are you doing here?” (in a tone that one doesn’t use w/ new acquaintances). Also, notice the looks of anger and jealousy when Tracy sees Tanya coming out of Jed’s room late at night. Fans of the noir genre will notice the noir-inspired choices made by the director (Harold Becker), esp. in the second half. This film is classified as a “neo-noir thriller,” according to Wikipedia. The sometimes haunting music (composed by Jerry Goldsmith) really sets the mood. This film harkens back- at times- to the Golden Age of Hollywood.

[1] …Baldwin’s mesmerizing performance is what stands out. Jed is charismatic, seductive, and as charming as a cobra as he weaves his spell over the Safians. Baldwin’s ability to jump from utterly charming to incredibly chilling in the blink of an eye is on full display here; it is truly the performance of a lifetime.

[2] It’s the uncertainties in the movie that make it one to remember. See it, you will not be disappointed! The background musical score is one of the most memorable that I have heard in any movie. Malice is a tale of arrogance, power, mystery, and deception, that must be seen and will be long remembered after the final credits roll.

[3] Alec Baldwin… is splendid as the doctor/villain [and what a smoothie he is]. His God “complex” speech is one of the highlights. Then there’s the delicious Nicole Kidman… What makes her performance stand out to me is that, as wild and evil as she can be, there’s also a vulnerability in her portrayal. You actually care what happens to her, even though you know she deserves to get caught. […] And Bill Pullman, being given a sort of wimpish character to play, brings it way up to the same level as the stronger characters with his performance. He does an outstanding job in this flick. 

[4] She’s [Anne Bancroft] like the spider with the fly with she’s talking with Kidman’s hubby who just doesn’t get the situation. Bancroft brings enormous power to this character.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews