AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2013
By Linc Leifeste | October 30, 2013
Director: David Rodriguez
Writer: David Rodriguez
Starring: Paul Sorvino, Michael Rapaport, Renee Props, Andrea Nittoli, Lev Gorn, Steven Bauer, Chazz Palminteri, Paul Ben-Victor, Hassan Johnson, Johnny Williams, Andrea Navedo, Roberta Wallach, Kevin Kelly, William DePaolo, Michael Sorvino
Joe Scoleri (Paul Sorvino) was a powerful man back in the day, a Mafia Capo who was feared and respected in the Italian-American neighborhood he ruled over. At least until he was busted by the Feds in a big organized crime sting and locked away. After twenty years, “Mr. Joe” is finally getting out on parole, but the world he’s coming back to is a far cry from the one he left behind. And after twenty years in the pen and with a “bum ticker,” he’s a shell of his former self. Paul Sorvino playing a Mafia boss? Sound familiar? While this story could be imagined as the continuing saga of Sorvino’s “Paulie” character from Goodfellas, if he’d made it out of jail alive, this is not a gangster film. It’s a post-Mafia film. The Mafia may still exist but it no longer thrives and even if he wanted to, returning to his old way of life isn’t an option for Joe.
Despite the fact that Joe doesn’t have a son, Last I Heard is a slightly comedic father-son drama. His only child is his single, middle-aged daughter Rita (Renee Props), who has moved back into the Scoleri house to help take care of him. Joe, facing mortality, is eager for grand-kids and is pressuring his daughter to make that happen. In the meantime, his neighbor Bobby (Michael Rapaport), who was still a kid when “Mr. Joe” went off to jail, is now married with a young daughter and has jumped in to help out as needed. He’s a good guy who, like his father before him, never ran with the criminal crowd and who stands in as something of a son to Joe.
The film is also the story of how one man responds when faced with overwhelming change. Joe’s parole conditions include a long list of people he is forbidden to speak with, weekly visits from his parole officer (Steven Bauer) and drug tests. Once accustomed to power, authority and respect, Joe is now a king without a kingdom. But it’s not only his situation that has changed, the world itself is a much different place. So when his daughter comes out of the closet, it’s hard for him to accept and his angered response damages that relationship. And then when Bobby stands up to him, refusing to carry out an order that could get both of them in trouble (the FBI has been keeping a close eye on Bobby now that he’s spending regular time with a former Mafia capo), that relationship is tested. And the question becomes, does a man like “Mr. Joe” even have a place in this new world and if so, does he have the determination to adapt?
All the performances, many from familiar faces, are solid and I found the film to be incredibly moving at times. Unfortunately, the dialogue is hit and miss and the pacing leaves something to be desired. In the post-screening Q&A, Sorvino was asked how much of the dialogue was improvised and how much was from the script and he answered that there was a lot of improvisation. That can be a good thing or it can be a bad thing, depending on a number of factors, but in this case it might have contributed to the lackadaisical feeling of some of the less-than-crisp dialogue. As well, the introduction of some of the film’s emotional plot elements felt forced and unnatural to me, the writer/director clumsily handling the injection of each new emotional angle into the story. In fairness, while those transitions often felt inorganic and jarring to me, I was always drawn back in as the storyline developed and by the time the credits rolled I found myself caring deeply about these characters.