Film Review: The Funeral (1996)


‘One family, one murder, too many lies’

Directed by:
Abel Ferrara

Written by:
Nicholas St. John

Cast:
Christopher Walken (Ray), Chris Penn (Chez), Annabella Sciorra (Jean), Isabella Rossellini (Clara), Vincent Gallo (Johnny), Benicio Del Toro (Gaspare), Gretchen Mol (Helen), John Ventimiglia (Sali), Paul Hipp (Ghouly), Victor Argo (Julius)

Abel Ferrara is an interesting director and The Funeral – his second gangster film after King of New York (1990) – is an a-typical, but interesting film that is set in the 1930’s. Christopher Walken plays Ray Tempio, boss of a mob clan. His young brother was killed and the body is brought to his house where relatives and associates gather for what will be a three day funeral.

Soon, his other brother Chez (Chris Penn) arrives, a hothead who’s mentally unstable. The brothers want to go after the killer and their suspect number one is gangster Gaspare (Benicio Del Toro).

Through flashbacks we learn more about the Tempios although it is hardly information overload. Ferrara and his regular screenwriter St. John are holding back! But first the positive points. The film is shot beautifully. From the images of mourning relations to the gangster nightlife that is portrayed, it all looks stunning. Also, performances are great all around. Two cast members deserve special mention. Chris Penn gives a career best performance as the craziest mobsters ever. And Annabella Sciorra is truly excellent as Ray’s wife Jean, who is openly critical of the gangster lifestyle.

What I am less thrilled about is the build-up. The movie ends with a dramatic act by Chez, but it is not really clear how he comes to this act, apart from the fact that he is crazy. We are not given enough pieces to work out this psychological puzzle. Same for the youth flashbacks from Ray. It is obvious that they have impacted him greatly, but exactly how remains elusive. Is the screenwriting the problem here? Or does Ferrara just enjoy leaving things a little vague? Judging by most of his films, it is the latter. Normally, this is good. A true artist knows as well what to leave out as what to put in. But this time he used the scissors too rigorously.

Rating:

Quote
JEAN: “They’re criminals, and there’s absolutely nothing romantic about it.”

Trivia
In 2009, Empire Magazine named The Funeral #16 in a poll of the ‘20 Greatest Gangster Movies You’ve Never Seen (Probably)’.