Thursday, January 20, 2011
Romeo is Bleeding
We see an empty bar out in the middle of the desert. The bartender, Jim Doherty (Gary Oldman) starts narrating in voice over as he cleans up and looks through a photo album:
Bartender: You ever seen a ghost? There's this guy. Comes in here. Every May 1st. Every May 1st, every December 1st. Like clock work. What's he want? Well, frankly, I ain't exactly sure. He had the strangest story to tell. He left this here and I keep it for him. How do I know he'll be back? What's that? A woman was involved? [trying on a ring] Hm, just fits. I was married once myself. Beautiful girl. By the way my name is Jim Doherty. I run this place. His name? Sure. His name is Jack Grimaldi. Hey, there he is now!
We see Jack Grimaldi (Gary Oldman) driving down the road in a neat looking suit. Jim Doherty tells us that "Jack was a romantic guy, big dreams.The problem was, there was always a little daylight between his dreams and his wallet. See, he was a working stiff, 56 grand a year and never made it past Sergeant. And, every day he looked at a little of this, (We see Jack responding to a grisly murder scene) and then he looked at too much of that (We see Jack on a stakeout watching a guy having sex with two girls.) And all the time he was thinking, huh, I bet you know what he was thinking, dontcha? you'd a done just what he wound up doin' I'll bet. He walked around just like everybody, but inside, he wasn't like anybody."
We see Jack come home to his wife and dancing with her in the yard until late in the night, as Doherty tells us she was his true love and he could've told her anything. We then flash forward to see Grimaldi trying to keep control of a car with blood all over his face, struggling with a woman who is trying to strangle him with her legs from the backseat. Donherty says "Hey wait a minute. I'm getting a little ahead of myself here." and stops the scene, asking the audience "Pretend you didn't see that. Now where was I?" We flash back to where we left off and we're told that Grimaldi's plan is working great, until the day "things started to go wrong." We see Grimaldi watching federal agents who are guarding a mobster, Nick Gazzara (Dennis Farina) set to testify against the mob the next day. Nick jokes with the agents telling stories about old jobs while eating dinner. Grimaldi watches from the rooftop across the street until he's sure of the room. He then calls the mob and gives them the information, for which he's paid $65,000.00 in a drop box.
We then see Grimaldi blindfolded playing a guessing game with a girl named Sheri (Juliette Lewis) Sheri tells him she dreamed he had a wife, and it was her. She tells him how happy she is to be with him. And Doherty tells us that "a man don't always do what's best for him, sometimes he does the worst." We see Grimaldi on the couch making out with Sheri. Later, at a restaurant, Grimaldi tells his fellow cops about Sheri and they love the details. They talk about a recent case involving a mobster informant named Frank Malacci, who they're not getting any useful information from, when another cop comes in telling them that Nick Gazzara "got popped" and they suspect the assassin Mona Demarkov. The cop with the news speculates that without Gazzara, they'll have to get information from DeMarkov. Grimaldi visualizes the scene, when he hears that DeMarkov also killed the agents.
Grimaldi meets with his mob connection and complains about the agents dying and how this makes him a cop killer, which wasn't part of the deal. He tells Grimaldi that Mona Demarkov has to be taken out offering Grimaldi the job. He concentrates on the money rather than worry anymore about cops possibly getting killed again. He arranges to pick up Mona (Lena Olin) from the police department, ostensibly to drive her to a safe house where the Feds are waiting for her. Grimaldi checks them into a hotel and uncuffs her in the room. He lights her a cigarette and Mona asks him how he'd like to become a rich man. "Well, I've already got my health." he tells her, but listens anyway. She picks up her chair and moves it so she sits down touching his leg with hers. He quickly drops his gun for the sexual opportunity, which she encourages. She reaches for his gun before long, thinking him distracted, but finds he's moved it. The two of them are interrupted by Federal agents who have the room key and walk right in finding Mona and Grimaldi on the floor. Mona starts laughing hysterically. He leaves her to the agents and then tips off the mob to her whereabouts, reminding Sal that the agents don't get hit.
Grimaldi goes home to see his wife, Natalie (Annabella Sciorra) She fixes him food and complains that it's too fancy. She pulls a gun on him and says "I don't know Jack, You tell me." before laughing, revealing she's joking. He asks her about the photos she takes, and she tells him she hopes to photograph weddings. He sneaks outside and we see that he keeps all of his "extra" money in a hole in the yard beneath a metal cover. Doherty's voice over tells us that Grimaldi hears "a sucking sound" from the hole and all he can think about is feeding the hole, blocking out thoughts of the casualties it took to make the money. He has a dream that night about Natalie and Mona both holding guns on him.
Grimaldi visits with Sheri, who dances in lingerie for him. He calls the station to check on homicides, hoping to hear that Mona was killed. Sheri asks "Is it hard yet baby?" and he replies "It ain't easy!" We see Grimaldi at the police station next, in the middle of a poker game. Sal calls him at the station and tells him to come outside. They talk to each other from separate benches and Sal tells him that Mona wasn't there, and his boss, Falcone, wants to see Grimaldi tomorrow and Sal advise him that he "better have something for him." He tells him that Falcone thinks he's holding out, and he'll need an address or something. Grimaldi heads to the restroom where his fellow officer, Martie (Will Patton) finds him. Martie is in a panic and he tells Grimaldi that he had picked up Mona Demarkov to transport her for the feds, who suspected someone was working both sides, and Mona took his gun and ran. Martie is afraid that he'll lose his job.
Grimaldi pulls up Mona's file and finds a picture of her with Falcone (Roy Scheider) He steals a tape from the file, which tells him that Mona had had an arrangement with an FBI agent, which left the agent mentally unstable culminating in his suicide. Grimaldi goes home and checks on his money hole, not realizing that Natalie is watching him from the window.
Grimaldi is escorted to Falcone's place. Grimaldi acts outraged accusing Falcone of breaking their deal, reminding him that he said no cops would be killed. Falcone reminds him that he was paid, and says "a life's a life." Grimaldi offers Falcone the money for Mona back, but Falcone won't take it telling him "I don't want the money back. I want Mona Demarkov dead." He tells Grimaldi he's to find her and kill her. Grimaldi says he won't kill her. Falcone tells him a story about Robert Lowell meeting Louis Lepke, Lowell, a conscientious objector, being in prison for not killing anyone, and Lepke being in prison for the opposite. When the moral of the story doesn't catch with Grimaldi, he reminds him that he can do all sorts of things to him and his family and will if he doesn't deliver. He reminds Grimaldi "You see, you don't make the deals Jack. I make the deals, and you're in until I say otherwise."
Jack gets back to his life and starts telling himself, "Stay alive, 65 grand, feed the hole." His fellow cops in their regular restaurant, notice he's flustered. He gets a phone call from Mona, who knows he's supposed to kill her by Wednesday. She tells him she's at the hotel, "our room." He meets her there and she asks what Falcone offered him. Mona offers him $325,000.00 to tell Falcone she's dead. She tells him they'll find a body and the autopsy will confirm it's her. She shows him a case holding half the amount and promises the other half when he has a death certificate.
He visits Sheri and she tells him she's leaving, because she doesn't fool around with married men. He tries to convince her to stay. He talks to Natalie next who wants to know why things have gotten worse for them instead of better. Natalie tells him that money is the only thing that lasts, but he acts like he doesn't know what she's talking about. She then asks if he's screwing her sister "or just my niece." She tells him "I don't know what you're doing Jack, but don't bring it back here."
The mobsters and cops all show up for Nick Gazzara's funeral, and Falcone takes the opportunity to talk to Grimaldi. He has some of his thugs take Jack and rough him up, taking one of his toes off, promising to take the rest tomorrow. Jack protests that it isn't Wednesday, but Falcone doesn't care. Grimaldi runs home afterwards and gives Natalie the money from the yard, telling her what he'd been doing, and to go to the Holiday Diner in Phoenix and check for him there every six months, May 1st and December 1st. He asks her "Will you be there?" and she says "We're married, aren't we?" He says "That's no answer." and apologizes telling her that he loves her and can't live without her, begging her not to leave him. She tells him she did something at home, to let him know, and it's in the top drawer of the bureau. Grimaldi says "I'll do anything." and Doherty narrates "Do what exactly? Can I tell you what makes love so frightening? It's that you don't own it, it owns you." He then drops Sheri off at the subway station, and she begs him to "Say it." He tells her "It's over." and Sheri adds "and you're sorry right, you're so fucking sorry."
He sits in his car starts writing an apology letter to Natalie, sobbing as he writes. Afterwards we see he's having trouble walking, due to his missing toe. He falls asleep at the waterfront and Mona shows up to meet him in a car. She shows him the last half of the money, and gives her a death certificate and fake id, telling her she died of a shot to the chest. He asks Mona if she's ever been in love, she doesn't answer but instead wraps a cord around his neck and tries to strangle him. He struggles and gets out of the car and shoots Mona in the leg. When she still struggles he knocks her out and puts her in the backseat of the car and drives off. We see that she wakes quickly, and reaches her calves up around his neck while he's driving, locking her feet together to choke him. He loses control of the car and hits a post, getting knocked out against the steering wheel. Mona squirms her way out of the car taking her papers in her teeth and running. Grimaldi checks his house and finds the mobsters have gone through it. He finds a photo album in the top drawer of the bureau and takes it determined not to return there or anywhere familiar.
He starts watching Sal and finds that he's been meeting with Mona. He hears shots from the apartment where they're meeting and runs to check it out. Thinking he sees Mona moving at the window he shoots her several times, and approaches her to find that he just shot Sheri, who was dressed up in clothes and a wig to look like Mona from behind, as well as tied and gagged to the spot where she was standing.Grimaldi runs off to find Mona, but she returns to the apartment when he leaves. She unties Sheri's corpse and pulls her own severed arm from her handbag, then cuts off Sheri's and replaces it with her own before lighting the place on fire. The next morning Grimaldi reads that Mona was found dead in the fire, just before some thugs find him. They catch him and knock him out while we see Mona outfitting herself with a prosthetic arm.We then see that Grimaldi is cuffed to a bed in the same room and Mona points a gun at him,the scene matching the bad dream he'd had earlier.
Mona talks him out for a ride and reveals she has someone in the trunk. She opens it and he sees she has Falcone gagged and tied there. She tells him to dig a grave for Falcone. When he protests, Mona tells him "dig one grave or two." She pushes Falcone into the hole and has Grimaldi fill it in at gunpoint. When he's buried she fires into the ground and tells Grimaldi he's a free man. We see shortly afterwards, Mona and Grimaldi at a dance, having a great time. Doherty narrates: "You ever wonder what Hell is like? Maybe it ain't the place you think. fire and brimstone? the Devil with horns poking you in the butt with a pitchfork? What's hell? The time you should have walked, but you didn't. That's hell. Huh, you're looking at it."
Mona and Grimaldi are next in a hotel room. Grimaldi counts some money in a suitcase and says "good bye." Mona asks him for "one last dance." before dropping her pants to the floor. "Why not." Grimaldi says. In moments the door opens and the cops show up to arrest Grimaldi. In the back of the squad car, he's given a letter from his fellow officers which reads " Jack, What a pisser. Here we are, fighting the bullshit for fifteen years and now we find out that you're part of the bullshit. What can we tell you? You broke our hearts, you dumbest of fucks. And, we mean that sincerely." They bring Jack to the same place he first brought Mona and try to convince him to cut a deal before Mona does, offering him witness relocation protection. He runs into Mona at the courthouse, and sees that they're letting her go for cooperating. She brags to him that even when they had sex, he never got to her. He tells her that during sex, he thought of his wife. Mona then tels him that's too bad because his wife is a dead woman and he's a dead man and laughs at him before walking away. Jack pulls a gun from one of the officer's leg holsters and shoots Mona dead. He then puts the gun in his own mouth but finds it's empty. The empty chamber sounds along with the bell ringing at the Diner in Phoenix. He tells us he was given a medal for "defending his fellow officers" along with a new residence and identity.
We see him as Doherty at the diner, looking through the album of wedding photos on "May 1st, that was five years ago to the day. I guess this is where I came in, to tell you the story of an unlucky guy who fell in love with a hole in the ground; a ghost, haunting his own grave, celebrating every six months with the same party, waiting for the same guest of honor to show. Demarkov? Dead and buried. Everything I had, finito, except that old voice in my head. Some things you never let go of. Of course, Natalie, she wasn't the only guest invited [we see that the photo album has pages for other women] Can't be a party without a crowd. I don't remember much of it really. Don't remember what I said to 'em, or what they said to me back. Don't remember how I felt, but once in a while, I do remember how they looked at me." We see that there are no pictures of him and Mona, although Natalie had made pages for them. He continues "Well, I guess she's not gonna make it, always next time though, right?" He hears the door and jumps when he imagines Mona coming in. He then sees Natalie, but the image fades away. He walks out of the dinner and sits down at the gas pumps outside, narrating; "Maybe you think I'm ready to give up, but that ain't how it is. She could came walking through that door any day, cause even after all of this, I bet she still loves me."
What About it?
"Romeo is Bleeding" is a film about a human being's endless capacity for justification. Jack Grimaldi is not an extraordinary guy in any way, the only thing unusual about him is that he's willing to go to any lengths to get what he wants. Of course, what he wants, is only more than he has. For Grimaldi it isn't so much about the "having" as the "getting." The fact that Grimaldi narrates his own story is interesting in that it allows a character with no redeeming qualities to come across more sympathetic than would otherwise be possible. He calls himself "an unlucky guy who fell in love with a hole in the ground." but watching his actions we see that Jack's misfortune's have very little to do with luck. He continually makes choices which put him in danger and acts as if there never was a choice. He decides to work against his fellow officers, and more importantly against the nature of his own job, yet Jack doesn't see that. He has no real loyalties whatsoever beyond imitating the appearance of them.
Jack is unfaithful to everything he can be unfaithful to, his wife, his coworkers, and any employer or cause he has. He's only ever faithful to the money. He gives his illegal stash of money to his wife only because he knows he can't possibly keep it safe while on the run from the mob. Jack relates "Can I tell you what makes love so frightening? It's that you don't own it, it owns you." summing up his main justification and the means with which he paints himself as an unfortunate victim of circumstance. He says those words as his wife is leaving, but they really have little to do with her. We see in his first encounter with Mona, that it takes very little to make Jack, "fall in love." We can gather from the photo album his wife left him that he "falls in love" on a regular basis and this is his defense against every moral quandary in which he places himself. Jack doesn't seem to have a larger plan for the money he makes on the side, it seems that Jack himself doesn't know how much money is enough. Jack views his own life poetically, giving himself impossible problems as if to ensure a tragedy happens. We can sense that Jack sees his suffering as "romantic." His approach is also self centered to its furthest extreme. Jack is a Romeo that isn't really driven by sex. We see from his relationship with Sheri, that although she's a mistress, their relations are actually quite mundane. It isn't the sex that drives him, but the idea of having more.
In keeping with his self image as a victim, Jack imagines that he's blameless of murder as long as he doesn't pull the trigger himself. He reminds Sal and Falcone several times that no cops were supposed to get hurt due to the information he sells them. When he hears that cops were killed, he doesn't seem to feel badly about it, and uses the information as an attempted protection from Falcone's demands. He accuses Falcone of breaking their agreement, as if this will get him off the hook with him. As a cop, it's unlikely that Jack could imagine a way that the Mob would kill someone heavily guarded by cops at all times without killing any cops. When Falcone tells him, "You know right from wrong. You just don't care." he has Grimaldi down cold. Nonetheless, although Jack's efforts get many people killed, he doesn't see himself as a killer. His whole sad self told story relies on things happening to him, making him "unlucky." If he starts killing, he has no choice but to see himself in a more active role, which isn't nearly as poetic as being a martyr. When he agrees to help Mona fake her death for more money than Falcone offered, we can't be sure if it's really the money or just a convenient chance to sabotage his own plan. When he finally kills Mona, it's apparently to protect his wife, giving him "no choice."
After burying Falcone, Mona tells him he's a free man, yet he chooses to stay with her awhile, despite his supposed plans to meet up with Natalie. He says "You ever wonder what Hell is like? Maybe it ain't the place you think. fire and brimstone? the Devil with horns poking you in the butt with a pitchfork? What's hell? The time you should have walked, but you didn't. That's hell. Huh, you're looking at it." Again, he isn't just describing the current situation, but his regular pattern of behavior. He habitually creates his own hell, and then tells himself that it happened to him. He acknowledges that his wife, Natalie is his true love, but it's difficult to believe him. It's more likely that he uses her as a poetic ideal to ensure himself a great lost love which makes his "exile" in Arizona exquisitely tragic.
This is a part that's perfect for Gary Oldman. It's the nuances of his character that really make this a film. The fact that he can watch the same behavior we watch and speak of it with a fond nostalgia, while not alienating his character at all is remarkable. While watching Oldman the corrupt cop, we don't forget Oldman, the owner of a deserted bar looking through a photo album. His gift for justifying anything he sees with complete sincerity is astounding. He could commit any act imaginable and sell himself on how unfortunate it was that he had no choice and does. Oldman gives the character a kind of blankness, as if it's all the same to him that his wife or Mona pulls a gun on him.
Lena Olin is also fantastic, playing the femme fatale a lot more dangerous than the usual. She's a good contrast to Grimadi's passivity. Mona is the other extreme, she disregards what happens to her unless she can use it to make something happen. This is a woman who would calmly cut off her own arm to carry ou her plan. She gives the sense of being unstobbable as evidenced by her frantic escape from Grimaldi's car, choking him with her calves and then wiggling out of the wreckage without missing a beat. Mona makes Grimaldi look like a passenger.
Annabella Sciorra is also great and essential to the story. Her character is complex although we only see her when Grimaldi does limiting her screen time. Her performance is interesting in that it has to work on two levels, at first as the unknowing wife, and then later the same performance works as the wife who knew every last detail but for whatever reason kept it to herself. This particularly adds to the scene in the kitchen with Natalie pointing a gun at Jack. She plays it off as a joke, but it seems more likely afterwards that Jack, despite his protests, was quite lucky at that moment.
With "Romeo is Bleeding" Peter Medak gives us a fascinating movie, well worth watching just for the actors involved and for the interesting take on Grimaldi. We are given an intimate character study colored by his Jack's delusions. While most of us aren't as twisted as Jack, it's a good reminder of the slant we put on our lives. If you imagine yourself a victim or an initiator, chances are your circumstances will end up fitting your assessment, which isn't to say that the same events won't happen to anyone. Whether they like it or not, both Mona and Grimaldi play both victim and initiator at times, although each sees the events through their own filter of determined justification.
While most crooked cop movies focus on the cop "crossing a line," that doesn't happen here. Grimaldi knew better than to look at the line, instead looking at what he wanted. He tells us at the beginning "Jack was a romantic guy, big dreams. The problem was, there was always a little daylight between his dreams and his wallet." It's telling that he focuses on the wrong part of his problem. Jack has no idea what his own dreams are. He's romantic alright, but the money is just a justification to sell himself on living a beautifully exciting and tragic story. In a perverse way he gets his happy ending, the perpetual hope that in six months she'll show up.