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Everybody’s dreamt of living in a gangster’s paradise. Of course, not the “black and yellow, slanging coke on the corner, throwing up signs in alleys” gangster, but the suave, sophisticated, and sensational gangster with the three piece suits, expensive Italian cuisine, and flashy cars, flashier money, and the flashiest women. In a way, this works for gangster films, where the bar has been set high with films like Goodfellas and The Godfather.
The Return of Joe Rich is like the non-gangster gangster film, but is that really a bad thing?
The Return of Joe Rich
Director: Sam Auster
The Return of Joe Rich is about the titular Joe Rich (Sam Witwer), a man facing financial problems, so he turns to his Uncle Dom (Armand Assante), a wise guy with connections, to get him into the life. This fanatic obsession with the life causes Joe to lose sight of what’s real in his life. More importantly, he puts himself and his best friend, Bernard (Joe Minoso) in a dangerous position when he turns his back on the only father figure in his life.
Writer/director Sam Auster knows his gangster films. Throughout, there are allusions to past gangster films, such as the Goodfellas-esque narration. There are also other allusions, such as Joe posing with his gun in front of a mirror a la Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. The character Joe, however, is more like a fanboy of the life rather than feeling like a real character. Joe’s a caricature of what he believes to be a wise guy, fueled by his minor encounters with Dom’s friends growing up, but mostly by depictions of wise guys in media.
As for the direction of the film… Auster makes a few risky moves that didn’t quite hit their spots. The first was the non-linear storyline. Don’t get me wrong, I love looping plots that’ll keep me guessing, but it just didn’t fit the tone of the overall film. The other huge risk was the implementation of these on-screen interviews of elderly wise guys reminiscing on their experiences, which help frame the upcoming scenes. However, they gave the film this detached, confused direction, muddying the lines between film and documentary, but not in an interesting way.
Joe Rich is desperate to become a made man, yet because of his misguided glamorization of the life, he makes mistakes that prove costly. In that sense, Joe Rich serves to be an analogy for the film as a whole. The Return of Joe Rich makes an attempt at changing up the conventions of the gangster film with its “non-gangster” gangster film approach, but it just doesn’t work.