John Sayles’ disturbing portrait of physical and moral urban decay in an unnamed Northeastern city is the kind of small, critically acclaimed movie that surely will find most of its target audience on video. Sayles, who writes, directs, edits, and sometimes acts in his own films, seems to see himself as a Springsteen with a Steadicam — a screen balladeer of working-class heroes, as in Matewan — and in fact, the movie’s rootless protagonist (Vincent Spano) bears more than a passing resemblance to the Boss.
City of Hope’s crisscrossing of stories reflecting the ugliness of urban existence makes for powerful, incendiary stuff — the racial tensions especially, in light of the recent L.A. riots. But often it’s all too self-consciously hard-hitting, and it quickly skids into melodrama. The pea-soup quality of the cinematography doesn’t help, nor do the broad and tiresome minor characters who allegedly supply comic relief. But if you can’t get enough of chockablock hell and unhappiness dished up like hash, this might be the lunch pail for you. B-