De Niro's Lange Shot
Robert De Niro has had a long an impressive career and there was a time when it felt like if De Niro was in a movie it couldn't fail. Unfortunately that was not always the case and in between the great performances there were those movies which just didn't work and "Night and the City" is one of those misfires. The problem with "Night and the City" is not that it is a remake or that the storyline doesn't work but the characterisations are completely wrong and in the case of De Niro he is so full on that his performance dominates the movie and not in a good way.
Harry Fabian (Robert De Niro - Backdraft) is a 2-bit lawyer, an ambulance chasing shyster who ducks and dives his way through life, looking for the big opportunity and having an affair with Helen (Jessica Lange - Tootsie) the wife of bar owner Phil Nasseros (Cliff Gorman). When Harry decides he is going to become a boxing promoter he finds himself with some unpleasant enemies none more so than Ira 'Boom Boom' Grossman (Alan King) the resident boxing promoter who doesn't take kindly to Harry persuading his brother Al (Jack Warden) to join him. And to add to Harry's problems is Helen who wants to leave Phil and run her own bar, asking Harry to get her a liquor licence from one of his contacts.
The basic idea to "Night and the City" isn't bad; a ducking and diving lawyer with big ideas ends up in over his head when things spiral out of control. It has enough elements to work, from Harry's relationship with Helen to the threat of being killed by 'Boom Boom' if anything ever happened to his brother. The trouble is that the story of Harry wheeler dealing never really takes precedence and strangely nor does the style because "Night and the City" is almost devoid of style. Even taking into account that "Night and the City" is now twenty plus years old it just doesn't have a specific look, just another movie set in New York,
The trouble with "Night and the City" is that Robert De Niro as Harry Fabian dominates the movie and De Niro is in full on face pulling mode. It just feels wrong and rather than coming across as a shyster Harry comes across as a comedian not too dissimilar to De Niro's Rupert Pupkin especially when we have unnecessary scenes such as when Harry chats with Regis Philbin in a restaurant. At the other end you have Jessica Lange as Helen who as a woman who is scheming to leave her husband and set up a rival business is not manipulative enough, lovely yes but that is wrong for the movie. There are plenty of actors who get the tone right; Jack Warden, Eli Wallach, Alan King and Cliff Gorman all play their characters spot on but with De Niro almost clowning it up it feels wrong.
What this all boils down to is that "Night and the City" is one of those rare Robert De Niro movies which doesn't work. It is a movie with various problems but the most significant one is that De Niro over acts his way through the entire movie delivering a character which not only feels wrong but dominates everything.