The film features Frank Vincent, well known both for his work on television’s “The Sopranos” (31 episodes as Phil Leotardo) and for his work in the film “Goodfellas.” The 70-year-old Vincent plays Lou Marazano, a hit man for the Mob who, as the movie opens, has not actually gone on a “hit” since 1986. He is a dinosaur in the world of crime, but he takes one last job to bankroll himself and his daughter and grandson so that they can have a brighter future. Former “Sopranos” cast member Kathrine Narducci (Charmaine Bucco) plays Lorraine Lionello, Lou’s twenty-year romantic interest who always provides him with the alibis he needs.
The 6 young filmmakers behind the concept and the script met while students at Chicago’s Columbia college and began making short films together their freshman year. In fact, the group headed by Director Brian Caunter (age 26) and with a script whose first four drafts were written by John Mosher and Brian Caunter (later assisted by Andrew Dowd and Josh Staman) formed Beverly Ridge Productions. Their first production was a short film based on Ray Bradbury’s story “The Small Assassin,” but “Chicago Overcoat,” premiered on October 10th, is their first full-length feature film. In fact, the sextet even dedicated the film to their Columbia lighting teacher, Chris Burrett, who died recently at age 60. “It was Mr. Burrett who had to give us permission to take all the lighting equipment out to shoot sometimes, so it was nice to be able to salute him this way after the way he helped us,” explained Director Caunter.
The money to make the film was raised largely by Cinematographer Kevin Moss’ mother JoAnne Moss, who runs a real estate and investing firm in Chicago. With the $2 million budget, the group secured starring talent like Vincent, Mike Starr— (who played 45 episodes as Kenny Sandusky from 2000 to 2002 on television’s “Ed” and also was Detective Russ Millard in 2006’s “The Black Dahlia”)— and cameos by Armand Assante as a jailed Mob boss and Stacy Keach as a retired honest cop.
I went into the screening not expecting much. I was pleasantly surprised. The group has pulled a Clint Eastwood twist by exploiting the fact that their lead hit man is aging and considered a has-been by the younger generation. Yet Lou (Frank Vincent) is still quite cold-blooded when he has to be, and he feels he has it in him to make one last big score so that he can retire to Vegas and finance his daughter’s attempts to start over with her small son, far away from her ex-husband, a small-time hood and drug addict.
One of the most impressive things about the film is the cinematography by Kevin Moss, who uses Chicago’s breathtaking skyline to create a film noir feeling, shooting in locations that, as he said in the after-film Q&A “have never been put on film before.” Female co-star Katharine Narducci summed it up well when she said, “It is shot so beautifully. It is poetic. Absolutely stunning.”
The performances also held up. Vincent was well cast and the Director said, during the after-film Q&A, “We had Frank in mind when we were writing it. We had no other actors in mind. We always wanted Frank.”
Originally cast in the role of the tough cop Ralph Malone who tracks Lou (Frank Vincent) was Joe Mantegna, a Cicero native. Unfortunately, Mantegna had to drop out weeks before shooting was to begin, when he took a recurring role on CBS’s “Criminal Minds.” Enter Danny Goldring, a Chicago native who played the last clown killed in the opening bank heist sequence of “The Dark Knight.”
Goldring reminds of an even more mature version of Robert Redford, all craggy skin and gruff demeanor. He turns in a solid performance as the cop who won’t quit tracking the corrupt police pension scandal that ultimately reaches into the highest places. When murders suddenly start occurring again within the ranks of crime bosses who could implicate those in power and flowers are sent to the victims’ homes immediately after their deaths, (an M.O. not seen for 20 years or more), Ralph Malone (Danny Goldring) is convinced that “the flower killer” is back on the job—or someone who is doing a very good job as a copycat killer. Because he, too, is a veteran of the force, he remembers the first wave of “flower killings.”
Frank Vincent, the New Jersey native who plays the old pro Mafia hit man drew on his years as a drummer for Del Shannon and Paul Anka in the 60’s, when he met many real Mafiosi, to play this part and his other gangster characterizations. As he told Ed M. Kozlarski in an October 8 “Chicago Reader” interview: “They (Mafia) all have a way of looking at you, of intimidating you. They’re all evil. I can give a look or a stare that people read as evil.”
One of the best bits of dialogue occurs near the film’s climax, when Lou (Vincent) faces off against a mobster sent to kill him and seems to be in imminent danger of being fitted for the dreaded “Chicago Overcoat,” Prohibition era slang for a coffin. The armed and deadly opponent tells Lou, “I promise you an open casket. All you can give your family now is your dead body.” Lou (Frank Vincent) defiantly responds, “F*** that! I’m going to Vegas!” and opens fire with an antique Tommy gun that is just as effective now as it was in its prime, a metaphor for the three mob hits the aging gunman has just successfully executed.
As the Q&A ended, veteran character actor Mike Starr (the hefty bowling alley employee from television’s “Ed”, 2000-2002) said, “They (the young filmmakers) have such passion. They really have it together. You’re gonna’ be amazed. I told the other guys, ‘You’re not getting in to some amateur production. This is as good as it gets.”
The only question now is whether, in this depressed economy, the film can find a savvy distributor to help it recoup its $2 million budget. Todd Slater of the Los Angeles-based Huntsman Entertainment is shopping it, but, as Associate Producer Chris Charles said, “We’ve had a lot of offers from smaller companies but we’ve been waiting patiently for the right buyer. We want an offer we can’t refuse.”