Christopher Walken, Chris Penn, and Vincent Gallo in 1996's "The Funeral."

The Funeral August 3, 2018  

DIRECTED BY

Abel Ferrara

 

STARRING

Christopher Walken

Benicio del Toro

Vincent Gallo

Paul Hipp

Chris Penn

Isabella Rossellini

Annabella Sciorra

Gretchen Mol

 

RATED

R

 

RELEASED IN

1996

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 39 Mins.

Jean has had it. She is fed up with the violence, and the toxic masculinity, so ubiquitous in her life. In the wake of Johnny’s demise, his brothers, which include the hot-blooded Chez (Chris Penn) and Jean’s serpentine husband, Ray (Christopher Walken), have taken it upon themselves to avenge his death. But why? Why fight fire with fire? To Jean, the antics which dependably surround the criminal life are selfish and wasteful. Through tears, she speaks of her disillusionment. Helen is stoic.

 

“They’re criminals, and there’s absolutely nothing romantic about it,” Jean says. She looks exhausted — as if she has spent the last few years unceasingly thinking about why she married a man she knew would bring her a lifetime of pain. This exchange is the best scene in the movie; it is a riveting moral center.

 

In The Funeral (1996), Abel Ferrara’s mafia movie in which Jean is supplementary but nonetheless crucial, her belief remains topical. Though the film is foundationally about Johnny’s death, most of the movie is spent in the travails of flashbacks. The stylistic technique is employed both to develop the brothers — Ray is unobstructive and ruthless, Chez is impulsive and depraved, while Johnny is more considerate and forward-thinking — and offer hints as to who might have killed Johnny in the first place.

 

This is among Ferrara’s more digestible movies. Although the filmmaker has historically proven that he’s partial to gravitating toward the more extreme side of things, as it went with the explosive rape-and-revenge thriller Ms. 45, from 1981, and the intense Bad Lieutenant (1992), The Funeral is cerebral and frequently understated. (At least until the techy final act.)

 

Subverting what we’ve come to know about the gangster movie — in line with Jean’s previously mentioned predilections — the film is less a quasi-glamorous account of criminal life and more an exploration of what it feels like to be ensnared in its mores. How does experiencing it have an effect on the men and women at the center of it all?

 

The movie moves toward a messy, brutal ending which fails to answer all — there are too many characters, too many conflicting motivations, too broad a moral spectrum for that to neatly happen. Even who killed Johnny doesn’t even seem all that important by the end.

 

What makes The Funeral engaging is its well-drawn, compelling assortment of characters, who all are just convincing enough and just mysterious enough for us to want to try to figure out just who they were and are for ourselves. For 99 minutes, we find ourselves comprehensively transported to the seedy world in which this family lives — and their demons, not their easily romanticized criminal actions, are what make this unit so engrossing. B+

I

especially like the moment when Jean (Annabella Sciorra) is at her wits’ end. She is sitting across from Helen (Gretchen Mol), the fiancée of her brother-in-law, Johnny (Vincent Gallo), in the kitchen of her suburban home. Johnny has just died — the victim of a drive-by shooting. This was no random accident, though: Johnny was a gangster, like everyone else in his family. Whether his death, which was recently observed at a sparsely attended funeral, is to be blamed on a rival gang is unclear.