“ Genre: Drama / Suitable for 18 years and over / Director: Nicolas Cage / Actors: Brenda Blethyn, James Franco, Mena Suvari, Harry Dean Stanton, Josie Davis ... / DVD released 2004-02-16 at Entertainment in Video / Features of the DVD: Colour, PAL „
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Sonny returns home to 1980s New Orleans after a stint in the army. His mother, Jewel, is still running her brothel, complete with new prostitute, the lovely, blonde Carol, who instantly appeals to Sonny. Sonny used to work for his mother as a gigolo before his army days, but is determined not to go back there. Unfortunately, none of his job opportunities work out and he ends up having to turn tricks, satisifying middle-aged women for his money. His relationship with Carol develops, but although she seems to want to settle down with Sonny, Sonny runs a mile, still determined to get himself a proper job and encouraged to do so by his mother's partner, Henry. Then something happens to turn his life upside down and it seems as though his life could be on the rocks for good. Can he pull himself together? Will he finally settle down with Carol?
I had no impressions of this film before I watched it. Made in 2002, Nicolas Cage's debut directorial effort, it didn't really hit anyone's radars and was generally considered to be a flop for Nicholas Cage. I was therefore amazed to find it was a real quality film that I found gripping from start to finish with, as far as I am concerned, very few flaws. The highlight of the film for me was undoubtedly James Franco's performance as Sonny. James Franco is probably better known for his roles in 'Freaks and Geeks' alongside Seth Rogen, Spider Man 3 and the drug dealer in Pineapple Express. Here he is amazing. He is very moody and sensitive - think James Dean (and in fact, he has played James Dean) - without being annoyingly over the top and I found him mesmerizing. Some of the scenes where he loses his temper are incredibly realistic and very scary The fact that he is rather gorgeous doesn't go amiss - although that is honestly not the reaon that I was so impressed. This man is very talented.
Harry Dean Stanton was also superb as Henry. There is a real father/son rapport between the two, especially because Sonny didn't know his real father and this is deeply touching to watch. It is clear that Henry really wants Sonny to do well for himself and he manages to convey this with very few words. His role is quite small, but, as it turns out, it is a pivotal one and it is worth paying attention to - not that anyone could possibly not notice him anyway. Mena Suvari was initially less impressive as Carol - purely because she seems to be a hard-faced woman who knows how to deal with men only too well and in more ways than one. However, as the film progresses, she really comes into her own and shows a side to her that isn't superficially present. It's not an outstanding performance, but she proves she is more than just a pretty face.
Any Brit will know Brenda Blethyn's name is synonymous with quality acting, having moved from more comedy to drama in the past few years. Here, I think she is sadly miscast and I found her performance a little uncomfortable to watch. As Sonny's mother, Jewel, she is a blowsy madam, who loves her son and partner, but relies on them entirely for her survival - even though she is obviously a very competent woman. The problem with Blethyn's performance seems to be the accent. I'm not sure whether it's just that it isn't good (I can't really judge myself) or whether it is more that I'm not used to hear such a strong Southern accent coming from her. Whatever it is, she didn't convince me, and although it is not a shocking performance, I had expected more. James Franco and Harry Dean Stanton outshone her by a mile. Nicolas Cage has a cameo appearance as a cocaine-sniffing weirdo, but blink and you'll miss it.
The subject matter of the film is not going to be to everyone's taste. It is a tough and gritty look at the prostitution/gigolo business and there is a lot of sex and violence involved. The sex isn't as graphic as I thought it might be - there is a classification of 18 on it - but there is a lot of bumping and grinding and language that you wouldn't want your mother to hear. Sonny's sudden temper tantrums are very violent and unexpected and, although I had a great deal of sympathy for his predicament, he wasn't someone I would like to meet when he was in that frame of mind. Of course, any film that revolves around prostitution is not going to be suitable for children, so you will want to make sure that any youngsters are well out of the way before you turn this on.
The story was excellent; it gripped me from start to finish in a way that not many films do. It helped that I had little idea of what was going to happen (and I've tried to ensure that the synopsis above is as vague as the one on the back of the DVD), but I think I would have enjoyed it anyway. The script is tight and not over-done - much of the emotions are portrayed by the performances rather than what the actors say. The visual side of the film is also good. Cage uses the front door of Jewel's brothel as a kind of symbol and it works very well. I also loved the settings - mainly New Orleans and its opulent side, compared to the more squalid brothel that Jewel owns. There are lots of bright colours and camera angles that, although not overly clever, work well in the context of the film. The overall effect is of classiness and I think Nicolas Cage has done well to attain that.
There is a rather good soundtrack accompanying the film. There is a real mixture of classical, country and rock and it works brilliantly. Tracks include Ring of Fire (although not the Johnny Cash version), Moonage Daydream by David Bowie, Sweet Dreams by Patsy Cline and some Vivaldi and Beethoven thrown in for good measure. It doesn't take over from the film at all - the emphasis is very much on the characters - but blends well into the background.
There is just one extra with the DVD - a trailer.
I thought this film was superb; I love finding films that I've not heard of but that blow me away and unfortunately, that doesn't happen very often. I will most certainly pay more attention to James Franco in the future - he is clearly a very talented actor and I hope that he becomes better known. As for Nicolas Cage - perhaps he should do a bit more directing - so long as it is of this standard and not the remake of The Wicker Man standard. He might be able to pay off some of his massive debts then. If you've been put off Sonny by his name being attached to it, or simply because you haven't heard much about the film, don't be - I think it's well worth watching. Highly recommended.
The DVD is available from play.com for £4.99.
Running time: 106 minutes