New York 1978. Three gangsters await the arrival of Brooklyn’s underboss Tommy Bianco in a small church. Due to some unsanctioned hits and missing shipments, business hasn’t been going to plan in Steve Young’s short gangster film Hell’s Kitchen.
Hell’s Kitchen is such a memorable name that when we first hear it mentioned we feel like we already know it. The neighbourhood is situated on the West Side Of Manhattan and for many years the area was seen as a bastion of poor and working-class Americans of all ethnicities. It was this gritty and bad reputation that led to its housing prices and cost of living being the lowest in Manhattan, however, that meant people with little or no money began flocking to move in there.
Hell’s Kitchen has always had cinematic value, not only for its different appearances in printed and filmed media but also because of its proximity to Broadway Theatres as well as containing the first actor’s studio opened by Lee Strasberg. This meant that Hell’s Kitchen has always been a haven for aspiring actors. Some of those who have resided there include James Dean, Burt Reynolds and Sylvester Stallone.
Steve Young’s short film doesn’t spend much time examining the neighbourhood of the Hell’s Kitchen, it’s just a name for us to associate with; a mere place setter. The four gangsters involved in the plot meet up inside a church to chat, joke and discuss business; simply put, they could be anywhere. Likewise, the 1978 setting is not examined in too much detail either, other than the clothes that each one of our characters are wearing, a brief disco reference to Studio 54, and the choice of grade (we will come to that in a moment), there is nothing more to suggest this is taking place in the past, present or future.
That said Hell’s Kitchen is a very slickly made film. Beginning with a nice shot of the Statue of Liberty’s torch, we meet Jimmy (The Don) Gallo, the very authoritative Serge De Nardo, Johnny Santorelli (the joker of the pack played with great energy by writer-director Steve Young) and Eddie Galanti – the calmly controlled Christopher Farrell. Later on, we also meet a rival family member, Tommy Bianco played with suitable nervousness by actor Andrew Lorenzo. The four leads give fine performances here; they all inhabit great three dimensional characters that seem to have just the right amount of mileage on their clocks. Browbeaten and weathered, they are plausible as gangsters and look like they have been involved in this business for years. De Nardo has the showier role as the Don and he manages to show some great transitions from a friend to foe, conveying a business-like attitude throughout his character’s changes, from light humour to the more serious darker moments.
The cinematography from Joshua Hoareau is impressive considering the one location he has to work with. Lots of browns and blacks surrounding our cast and the light pouring through the stained glass windows are beautifully photographed, while the choice of aforementioned film grading helps give the audience the sense that we are watching a 70’s crime film. The inside of the church is gorgeously lit, while Young’s framing is excellent; he manages to create some vivid imagery with his imaginative blocking and shot choices, even bringing to mind Sergio Leone at times when he has all four of his characters sat in church together.
Hell’s Kitchen is certainly not an original gangster film but it is great fun. The camera rarely stops moving which gives the short a lot of energy and exuberance. In a time when movies tend to follow the same formula over and over again, Hell’s Kitchen at least shows that it has some life to it as well as a great deal of inventiveness from a talented director, cast and crew.