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City Hall Review

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The accidental shooting of a boy in New York leads to an investigation by the Deputy Mayor, and unexpectedly far-reaching consequences.

★★★★

Opening (and closing) with a sweeping Manhattan panorama accompanied by John Cusack’s measured narration, it’s clear right from the off that this is aiming to be an old fashioned melodrama. With an intriguing plot, two outrageously good performances from its male stars and a refreshingly intelligent script, it ends up being just that.
Mayor John Pappas (Pacino) rules New York with respect and efficiency. He’s a politician who knows the rules of the game but also how to get things done, pleasing the businessmen of the community — legal and otherwise — in the same way he dazzles the voters. In other words, he’s the perfect candidate for future US president and he knows it. His assistant mayor, southerner Kevin Calhoun (Cusack) knows it too and intends to remain loyal to the man. The respect and trust between them is mutual. But when a six-year-old boy gets caught in the cross-fire of a dirty deal, the mayor’s hold on the city starts to unravel as Calhoun slowly uncovers a conspiracy of corruption involving everyone from a high powered judge to a benign politician, maybe even to the mayor himself.
Becker’s film at times offers us an unwanted romance between Cusack and campaigning lawyer Fonda, while at others it throws in some bog standard thriller chase elements. But when it opts to concentrate on the complexities of the plot and even more on the complexities of its two central characters and their relationship to each other, it’s truly compulsive. Pacino commands attention every second he’s on the screen. When he attends the funeral of the young victim, he turns what should be a private moment of grief into an evangelical call for justice that also manages to be a fairly decent advert for re-election.
As good as Pacino is, however, he generously takes a back seat to Cusack for the majority of the movie, with the young actor proving himself an equal to the old master. If there’s any justice City Hall should be the movie that finally makes Cusack a star.

Charismatic performances push this into a higher bracket of political thriller.

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