Crime Story was directed and written by Adam Lipsius (Amy and Sophia, Oceans Rising) and stars Richard Dreyfuss (Murder at Yellowstone City, Every Last One of Them), Mira Sorvino (6 Below, Mighty Aphrodite), Pruitt Taylor Vince (Broken Blood, Gotti), Pruitt Taylor Vince (Black Lightning, Reign of the Superman), David S. Perez (Twas the Night, Mark of the Butterfly), Megan McFarland (From a Whisper to a Scream, Irresistible), Joanna Walchuk (Naomi, Too Good to be True), Tye Claybrook Jr. (30 Day Itch, Before I Go), and D.W. Moffett (Switched at Birth, Kill Me Later). It’s about an ex-mobster taking action against those who’ve robbed him, reckoning for his misdeeds in the process.
The Plot: A lot goes on within Lipsius’s script, little of it unseen in other movies sharing the basic tenets of the scenario. It can at least deliver on some of its fronts, bringing interesting confrontations to the screen between plot threads.
Retired mobster Ben (Dreyfuss) is trying to get his life back on track by finding someone to help take care of his wife Nan (McFarland). That someone is his daughter Nickel (Sorvino), who has her own problem in Sherry (Walchuk), who’s in hospice. Switching back to Ben, he finds that his house has been invaded and his money stolen; now turning to old friend Tommy (Vince) to find out that Jimmy (Williams), Reggie (Claybrook Jr.) and Matteo (Perez) are to blame. It’s this investigation and confrontation series of events that has the most dramatic and entertainment value, so it’s a shame when the movie decides to pick up even more extraneous subplots.
Congressman Billings (Moffett) knows the relationship between Ben and Nickel, and since he has his own history with the man, he protects Nickel. All of these tangents and more, such as one involving the congressman’s ex-maid, and another Nickel’s search for assistance in helping Nan take the story down a few notches because of the unneeded detailing in a movie whose runtime cannot afford to stretch itself thin with minor notes. One turn of face does rejuvenate the plot into tolerability, even if it’s clear from this point where it will be going.
It’s all a bit of a mess, with some narration from Ben meant to provide an extra bit of insight falling on its face as it’s unclear where it’s coming from in the timeline. Other odd decisions like the events taking place in 2016, for some reason, as well as opening with a framed narrative, come off as undercooked choices from the conception phase of the script. Crime Story’s plot isn’t bad, but it gets caught up in itself and in desperate need of streamlining.
The Characters: Lipsius wants complexity for his characters, and he gets what he wants with this outing, keeping morality grey and histories tumultuous. The effect is mixed, as there’s a distinct troubledness in Ben and Nickel, but the other characters suffer from underdeveloped backstories and motives.
Ben used to be a hitman in the local mob, taking out and cleaning up after whoever his bosses, and whoever else could pay, wanted out of the picture. Limits were found with his job for Billings, unbeknownst to the congressman, who wanted an impregnated maid silenced. These actions made Ben go straight over a decade ago, seeking to take care of his wife who’s suffering from dementia and make amends with Nickel, gruffly espousing his cancer diagnosis and handing her money to do what she will. It’s an interesting character full of ups and downs, and Dreyfuss does great work with the part.
Nickel was neglected by her father for reasons that aren’t well explained. Since she wasn’t taken care of, her law degree went out the window in lieu of law enforcement, eventually finding her way into the inner circle of Billings. Neither of them knew about the mutual connection, and it doesn’t mean much in the long run. Nick doesn’t want to make amends with Ben, all she wants is to take care of Sherry, the sister to whom Ben denies his relation to. Her reasoning for going down the path she does shows she’s just as tough as her father, creating two strong characters to focus on.
Ancillary participants like Billings, Sherry, Tommy, and more don’t get this same treatment, with blurry connections to the leads and weak performances from those portraying them (except for Vince). Most of them don’t feel as necessary as the story makes them out to be, turning out to be wasted time in the proceedings, making a different approach to them appear necessary to stack up against two very good leads.
The Crime: With a name as blunt as has been bestowed onto this movie, the crime should be the most compelling aspect of the production, but it isn’t, with the affliction that faced the plot having a similar effect on the criminal actions and connections.
Whenever Ben’s mission to make the three goons pay for what they did to him, Crime Story finds its finest asset. While Ben may be old and haggard, he’s not out of the loop, taking precautions to ensure his twilight years are safe. Tracing the leads comes from different angles, with a hidden security camera and Tommy’s computer know-how setting him on his way, and the methods he uses to continue his search appealingly forward in the form of old mob contacts, crowbars, guns, and sleuthing. None of this is easy for the man, which enhances the tension throughout the journey.
Between these scenes are ones following Nickel’s own affiliation with the crime, which isn’t as engaging, as she’s dragged away from the events by the congressman who’s running for re-election and needs her police influence to set up speeches and rallies for the politician. Once she does find her way back to Ben, her confrontations with him surrounding his personal mission, things get better, as she’s afraid of what he’ll do to the culprits in the time he has left, and after a reveal, it makes sense as to why she’s so unnerved.
Suggested criminal behaviour and the robbery itself are less deserving of praise, as the movie doesn’t have the funds to go into detail or into action. There’s the congressman’s affair, which almost resulted in something horrifying, with the woman turning back up years later taking up a small portion of the runtime to make the man face consequences, but without proper elaboration, it’s rather pointless, as are some grander moments surrounding Ben’s plan to get back at the ringleader of the event that set Crime Story in motion.
Said motion is fuzzy and listless at times, but when the director has the sense to follow the low-wattage investigation, Crime Story becomes decently enveloping and coarse enough to keep one’s attention.
The Technics: Lipsius has directed before, but Crime Story doesn’t always give off the impression that this is the case, despite its competence and occasional bar-raising to above-average construction in a good chunk of areas.
Noir influences are apparent here, but not all noirs were created equal. Their heights of mainstream popularity have long since passed, with one retrospective joke being the usage of music as a crutch for atmosphere. Crime Story leans just as hard on audio as it does on visuals to get by, with an overbearing score feeling omnipresent across the 99-minute runtime. It’s not a bad score, but it is repetitive.
Post-production choices have some problems too, with the colour palette being a little on the warm side for such a grim endeavour, with oranges and yellows making themselves too noticeable in an effort so grey. Editing brings up issues too, with Crime Story taking on more characters and plot points than it can handle, cutting extraneous details would’ve been welcome.
Dreyfuss brings this movie to life, as do the other leads and parts of Lipsius’s script, but that same script neglects some of its best elements for as many characters as it can fit on-screen. Crime Story is acceptable, but not the mini noir it wanted to be.
Crime Story is available on most Digital platforms from Paramount Home Entertainment. And if that’s not quite what you were looking for, FilmTagger has some suggestions.