In his English-language debut, acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Amir Naderi (THE RUNNER) employs Manhattan itself as one of his principal characters. Virtually all of MANHATTAN BY NUMBERS takes place on the streets of New York's liveliest borough, and Naderi's camera turns even mundane locales
into magical spaces of light and color.
Daily News reporter George Murphy (John Wojda) has been laid off and is reaching the end of the line. Already six months overdue on his rent, he's sold or pawned everything he owns, and unless he can raise $1,200 within 72 hours, he'll lose his modest apartment on 215th Street. In the meantime,
his wife and daughter are staying with his father-in-law in Queens; the holiday season is fast approaching, and George's little girl still believes in Santa Claus. When all hope seems lost, George remembers an old friend and co-worker, Tom Ryan, who may be able to offer financial assistance--or at
least some cheap advice. Hitting the subway, George works his way down to 125th Street, making desperate phone calls along the way, but everyone he reaches is in the same bind. Eventually, George tracks down Tom's wife, Ruby (Mary Chang Faulk), who works in a coffee shop. She bitterly informs him
that Tom went downhill quickly after losing his job. In fact, he's disappeared altogether.
By the time he reaches Times Square, George's quest to locate Tom has become at least as important as his desire to secure the back rent. He treks to the Tompkins Square Park area of the East Village, where everyone he encounters seems to know Tom, but no one knows where he is. According to his
street friend Floyd (Frank Irwin), Tom talked too much. He'd become something of a self-styled advocate for the homeless, but he was given to drinking and useless talk. Disillusioned, George heads down to Chambers Street in the financial district, where a fabric merchant may lend him some money.
But the merchant fails to come through, and George, at wit's end, hurls his address book to the sidewalk and staggers away. Suddenly, however, a sympathetic clerk from the fabric store catches up with George and offers him a few bucks. The simple goodness of this gesture lifts George's spirits and
restores his faith in his fellow man. But his future remains convincingly uncertain.
MANHATTAN BY NUMBERS memorably depicts the Big Apple's seamy underside, an aspect of the city that is acutely familiar to its residents but to which most tourists are blind. Much to his credit, Naderi deftly avoids every recognizable New York landmark. Instead of glitzy, upscale vistas, he shows
us what's usually left just outside the frame in most Hollywood fare. The film's stunningly pristine cinematography, however, is arguably at odds with Naderi's frank realism.
Of greater concern is the fact that it becomes increasingly difficult to sympathize with George's plight as the film progresses. He protests at one point that he's a writer, that's what he does; how can he work at a photocopy center or parking garage? But George is also a husband and father, and
his insistence on preserving his self-esteem in preference to his family's security will alienate many viewers. Indeed, the elusive Tom might have made a far more engaging protagonist than wimpy George. (Adult situations.)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: NR
- Review: In his English-language debut, acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Amir Naderi (THE RUNNER) employs Manhattan itself as one of his principal characters. Virtually all of MANHATTAN BY NUMBERS takes place on the streets of New York's liveliest borough, and Naderi's… (more)