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Famed Harlem night spot The Cotton Club was one of the hottest places in New York during the swinging 1920s and 30s. Owned by infamous mobster Owney Madden (Bob Hoskins), the popular club was a home to the jazz age, where the rich came to mingle, gangsters came to do business and where stars came to shine. Following the lives of its patrons and the dreams of its performers, The Cotton Club focuses on the story of Dixie Dwyer (Richard Gere) and his involvement with organised crime after he saves the life of heavy-hitting underworld figure, and Cotton Club regular, Dutch Schultz (James Remar), and what happens when Dixie falls in love with Schultz's mistress Vera Cicero (Diane Lane).

Review by Craig Miller:
While Francis Ford Coppola may have enjoyed critical and creative success in the 1970s with such cinema masterpieces as The Godfather parts I and II and Apocalypse Now, he offered very little in the way of quality films during the 1980s that would further cement his legendary status within the Hollywood ranks of directorial geniuses.

His highly ambitious 1984 epic The Cotton Club was fraught with problems from the get-go, including constant script changes, production difficulties and personal bickerings, and while the finished product is a visually impressive homage to films of the gangster and musical genres of the 1930s, it fails to take the opportunity to delve deeper into more serious subject matter.

Organised crime, racial tensions between white and black America, and the invincible and punishing social climates of the late 1920s early 1930s, are all touched upon in Coppola's quite stylish jazz and dance feature, but without paying the proper respect to these issues, it is impossible to make an accurate film about that time and place no matter how dramatised events might be.

The Cotton Club is used more to create an atmosphere - a stage on which to belt out a larger story. Had it centred more on the actual history of the club itself, the story would have felt much more aligned. As it is, we get a jumbled style of filmmaking, with numerous cast members detailing numerous plots and stories, coming together around a common variable; a popular night club in its hey day.

Coppola hardly misses a beat with the credit sequences and opening dance scenes, immediately setting the mood for the picture and delivering audiences into a perfectly realised 1920s club scene in all its sequined and chorus girl glory. But this is never his problem. In fact, all of the popular jazz musical numbers and lengthy dance interludes are first class. The problem is the lack of in-depth personal story, and the appeal of the characters.

Many of the characters are under-utilised and, in some cases, scenes do little to drive along the action, rather serving as inclusions to show off actors and touch ever so lightly upon the aforementioned higher ideals. To show the club's black performers striving to be the best dancers and entertainers they can be as a way of dealing with the unjust social order of the time is a cop-out to say the least.

Richard Gere as the film's protagonist Dixie "The Kid" Dwyer, is totally miscast in a role that should have gone to someone far younger. His acting is overall solid, but as a thirty five year old man at the time, his portrayal of an impulsive, idealistic "kid" burdened with the naivety that comes with youth, is left wanting in a big way. Diane Lane as teenage starlet Vera Cicero and Bob Hoskins as gentle mobster Owney Madden work well within their respective story lines, and a young Nicolas Cage doesn't let his uncle Francis down, giving a strong turn as Dixie's younger, unstable brother Vincent.

As a spectacle, The Cotton Club is highly impressive. Coppola's strong sense of style and his subtle detailing of the trendy night spot spark an interest in this 1920s/30s culture that keeps the film mostly entertaining. Unfortunately it's just not that interesting as a film, and while Coppola succeeds visually, there is very little of cinematic importance to The Cotton Club that makes it stand out.

Published November 18, 2004

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(US, 1984)

CAST: Richard Gere, Diane Lane, Bob Hoskins, Gregory Hines, Nicolas Cage, Fred Gwynne, Laurence Fishburne, James Remar

DIRECTOR: Francis Ford Coppola

SCRIPT: Francis Ford Coppola & William Kennedy

RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen 1.85:1, Dolby Stereo 2.0



DVD RELEASE: October 13, 2004

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