Also know as Cocozza's Way
The crime drama is usually considered the domain of the American cinema. After all, some of the best American films have been in this genre, The Godfather saga, Goodfellas and even as far back as the old Jimmy Cagney. Strictly Sinatra offers a view of this type of film from the perspective of the British filmmakers. The film follows a lounge singer in Glasgow, Toni Cocozza (Ian Hart). His act and demo tape is called Strictly Sinatra, homage to his favorite songsmith. Toni works the small clubs and lounges hoping for a big break when a noted local mob boss Chisolm (Brian Cox) approaches him. At first the gangster just compliments Toni but soon the inevitable favors come into the scene. Tonis girlfriend (Kelly Macdonald) a cigarette girl in one of the clubs, threatens to leave him if he doesnt turn his back on this life of gangsters and crime. The film replays the mythos surrounding Sinatra from the British perspective. Fans of the American films may feel like this presentation is like waking from a dream about these characters, you recognize aspects of them but the details are fuzzy and fleeting. The story seems more like a basic cable reenactment of events most American associate with Sinatra and the alleged mob connections that always surrounded him. The center of the film is the decision that Toni faces, the love of a good woman or the fame and prestige that would follow the boost local organized crime association will bring to his career.
The acting is passable but the weak storyline hinders actors that seem to have talent. Hart displays a strange dichotomy between his singing and speaking personas. While singing he is presented as a smooth voiced, very Americanized Sinatra clone. His speaking voice is high pitched and nasal, a very thick Glasgow accent that will hinder the lines understanding on this side of the pond. It seems that Hart received most of his inspirations for this role from watching old American films rather than trying to own the role for himself. Cox is a face that many American viewers will recognize, perhaps not being sure where. Such is the fate of the great character actors, they fill they assigned roles so well the audience sees the varied characters they play rather than the actor. Cox has been in such notable flicks as The Minus Man, Kiss the Girls and the up coming sequel to the X-Men movie. He plays the gang boss with some flair and believability. Although more of a central role Cox plays it like his many character roles, with a dedication to making the character real. A real treat is Macdonald as the girlfriend. She is always engaging and brings a needed light side to the drama. For those that feel they recognize her she was in Godsford Park and the award crowned Elizabeth. This young lady has talent and should continue to be cast in major film projects.
The latest in the growing trend of actors turned director is Peter Capaldi. A notable Scottish character actor, Capaldi uses this project to tackle his first feature length film. You an tell immediately that among the greatest influences in his direction methods are the Hollywood films he pays homage to here. His style is a bit uneven but there is excellent potential displayed here. The pacing needs some additional polish, something Im sure will happen as this director matures in his craft. The main problem is trying too hard to fit into a mold the film cannot fill. As with the story, if Capaldi expressed himself more in the style of he film rather than trying to emulate Hollywood he would have been a lot better off. The set design was interesting in how the look and feel of a casino in England differs from one in Vegas or Atlantic City. The English gambling dens seem a lot more like a dinner theater than a casino. The feel seemed to me to be far more informal and laid back. He gets the story told with frugality not going into a plethora of side plots. At least this film stays on track which seems to be rare now.
As for the disc itself, once again Universal does it again. They are rapidly becoming one of the best studios for attention to the details of DVD mastering. The real touchstone of this is not in how they produce the big blockbusters, everybody pulls out all the stops for theses. Universal pays attention to the smallest of films, giving each the consideration and technical features. This film is far from being a major production yet it has anamorphic video and both Dolby 5.1 and DTS audio tracks. While there are no extras except the trailer the video is crisp and clear. The color balance extremely well done and there are no artifacts or edge distortion noticeable. The sound field is fair, little use of the rear speakers except for some ambient sounds, especially noticeable in the casino scenes. For those that are into English independent films this is worth a look.