Killing of a Chinese Bookie/B+,B

Pioneer/1978/109m/PS 1.33

       Can there be anything like a down and dirty Cassavetes flick. I mean, Cassavetes is down and dirty already in his filmmaking style, but The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is lean and mean and looks at a dirty element of society through a clean lens. The director knows his way around the dark side of the street, moving in staccato rhythms to unexpected places. I like this film very much.
     There's not much action and there's very little plot, but the story of a sleazy strip joint owner who gets into trouble over a gambling debt is riveting. The material suits the Cassavetes cinema verite style better than much of his other work.


Cosmo keeps his cool. ©Pioneer

     Ben Gazzara is quite amazing as the resilient Cosmo Vitelli. Gazzara smiles knowingly, sweats bullets of truth and faces up to a crisis with the cool of a Bondian hero. As the droplets of perspiration slide down Gazzara’s face, you feel the Cassavetes heat welling up, overwhelming his characters and sending them to a meeting with their fates.
     Much of "Bookie" appears shot hand held with a documentary like feel to it. It's not all over the place like news footage, but it does emphasize the isolation and fear of the characters. The Cassavetes camera breathes. It adds a layer of immediacy and tension to the screenplay.
The DVD looks pretty good. Colors are alive; the graininess is controlled conveying the feeling of the director’s style. Images are just sharp enough. Yes, you can count the beads of sweat. I think it may have been slightly cropped. It's hard to tell for certain with Cassavetes, but when characters are talking to half characters, it's a strong indication that something is amiss. It's a keeper!












































































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