Video Review

Video Review: 'Federal Hill' (1995)

MPAA Rating: R
EW's GRADE
C-

Details Movie Rated: R; Genres: Drama, Mystery and Thriller; With: Jason Andrews, Anthony DeSando and Nicholas Turturro

The big news about Federal Hill is that this dark urban romance is available on tape two ways: in color and in the ''original director's version.'' Here, the scintillating latter phrase doesn't promise additional sex or violence — it offers the film in black and white. Yes, Federal Hill is apparently the first contemporary movie to undergo the process of colorization. Vidmark took this dramatic step to get the low-budget indie into stores that hesitate to stock new B&W movies. When this modification was announced, Hill writer-director Michael Corrente made some predictably huffy protests, calling it a desecration before slouching off to Hollywood to work on an ad adaptation of David Mamet's play American Buffalo. So in the interest of artistic integrity, Vidmark is letting home viewers decide which Hill is tops.

Actually, they're both pretty low. Had Martin Scorsese never made Mean Streets, the world would be minus one classic, but it would also have been spared lame imitations — like Federal Hill. Two Providence toughs, one a slick drug dealer (Anthony DeSando), the other a volatile burglar (NYPD Blue's Nicholas Turturro), experience a rift in their friendship. Unlike Scorsese's movies, Hill lacks any kind of moral complexity: Its message seems to be that scumbags have feelings too. Thus, while competently structured, confidently shot, and convincingly acted, the movie is, ultimately, a posturing trifle.

And that applies, unequivocally, to both versions. While the B&W original is more attractive, there's nothing about the movie's content that cries out for the faux noir look — Corrente's insistence on B&W is, in fact, one of the things that makes the film posturing. The colorized version plays less artily and as a result feels like a pretentious stab at something better by a direct-to-video hack.

I must admit that colorization has made strides recently — the vividly hued alternate version looks as if it could have been shot in early Technicolor. If only there were worthier movies on which to try this exciting technology ... oops, never mind. Both versions: C-

Originally posted Sep 08, 1995 Published in issue #291 Sep 08, 1995 Order article reprints