Palookaville (1995 with William Forsythe and Vincent Gallo)

USA / 1995

Director and Writer: Alan Taylor

Cast: William Forsythe, Vincent Gallo, Adam Trese

“There’s a real affection for bumbling crime stories,” says director Alan Taylor of his movie debut, inspired by the short stories of Italo Calvino. “I’m not sure why; maybe because it’s reassuring to think the big, threatening bad guy is not so threatening if he can screw up.”

Taking its cue from Maria Monicelli’s 1958 Italian film Big Deal on Madonna Street, which ends with a criminal breaking into the wrong place, Palookaville starts with inept New Jersey crime trio Sid (William Forsythe), Russ (Vincent Gallo) and Jerry (Adam Trese) trying to pull off a robbery on a jewellery store.

When it lands them in the next-door bakery (a minor plot device now fully explored by Woody Allen in Small Time Crooks), Russ suggests – as a “momentary shift in lifestyle” – that they rob the security van that picks up the wages from the local supermarket. Investing in toy guns, the men become obsessed with the heist, constantly watching Richard Fleischer’s B-movie Armored Car Robbery on video, but something about their pathetic lives indicates that things will never go too badly wrong.

Despite this openly flimsy premise, Palookaville deftly deflects the cliches of the heist-gone-wrong saga, transforming itself into an engaging alternative to the gritty American independent norm. Caught in a bizarre middle ground between ’40s and ’90s Hollywood, Palookaville is the perfect antidote to the violent cynicism of the modern crime movie and, with its tone-perfect performances from a faultless cast – especially baleful underground superstar Gallo – it’s something of an unsung classic.

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