|Modern Pulp||Jan 22 2016|
A freelance photographer who has spent his career documenting the mean streets of New York City, always arriving in the aftermath of terrible events, finds himself presented with the opportunity to photograph a gangland massacre at the instant it occurs. One crime family has decided to wipe out another and Joe Pesci's Leon Bernstein, aka the Great Bernzini, knows where and when it will happen. He wants up close photos and the only way he can get them is to be in the restaurant where the killings will happen. After two decades of seeing his photography ignored by the art world, he thinks pulling off this feat will make everyone take notice of him. Bernzini is reckless the same way Jimmy Stewart is in Rear Window, but in less cartoonish fashion because we’re taken inside his thought process and made to understand it.
There's more here of course—love, loneliness, social status, musings about art—but the shootout and whether Bernzini is crazy enough to shut himself in a room where one stray bullet could end his life is what the film is really about. The Public Eye, which appeared in 1992, was a clear influence (along with the French film Man Bites Dog), on the acclaimed 2014 thriller Nightcrawler, but this one is a period piece, set during 1942. While the historical details are convincing, director Howard Franklin and cinematographer Peter Suschitztky don't aim for a true noir look. The filmscape is dark, but not technically stylish. Still it's good, and it benefits from Pesci, who has a way of inhabiting roles to the extent that you can't imagine anyone else playing them. He makes the movie work.