Despite transplantation from its original setting, 11th-century Scotland, to contemporary New York City and the bloody world of the Italian mafia, MEN OF RESPECT remains a literal retelling of Macbeth, Shakespeare's tragic masterpiece.
New York City seems to be constantly shrouded in a violent thunderstorm as the story unfolds. Michael Battaglia (John Turturro) is a low-level hitman working for mafia boss Charlie D'Amico (Rod Steiger). Battaglia's wife Ruthie (Katherine Borowitz) is a chilly redhead who wants her husband to
climb a rung higher in the business. Battaglia seizes the opportunity to advance himself by viciously butchering a group of D'Amico's enemies at a seafood restaurant in the Bronx. But his future becomes even brighter when he and buddy Bankie Como (Dennis Farina) encounter a trio of weird
fortunetellers. The wizened leader of the trio, Lucia (Lilia Skala), prophesies that Battaglia is destined to become mafia boss: the Padrino. She also predicts that Como's son will become Padrino as well one day. Battaglia tells Ruthie about the prophecy and his wife becomes flushed with lust for
power. She convinces her husband to murder D'Amico when he visits their home, above an Italian restaurant in Little Italy. They proceed with the plan. After a hearty meal, Mrs. Battaglia puts a sleeping draught in D'Amico's bodyguards' coffee. And Battaglia, armed with a Sicilian dagger, murders
D'Amico in his sleep. He's now Padrino. But what about the prophecy of Como's son? Paranoia, guilt and eventually madness begin to consume Mr. and Mrs. Battaglia.
MEN OF RESPECT is almost a scene by scene transcription from the Shakespeare play. It's also one big mess. The trouble begins in the first major scene where, from sloppy staging and editing, characters seem to jump around the room from cut to cut. The director, William Reilly, rather than staging
the scenes with slam-bang crime drama physicality, chooses to present them in a series of static dramatic tableaux. It's a big mistake. We know the movie is based on a play. (And for those who don't there's an explanatory title in the opening credits.) What we are waiting to see is whether the
filmmakers can pull off the conceit and make Macbeth work as gangster drama. But the movie doesn't seem to be interested in portraying its Italian-American characters believably. Everyone speaks a different accent that sounds hastily adopted. The characters don't feel like they've come from the
same neighborhood or share the same loyalties and values. They just look like a bunch of actors running around on a set trying to make a queasy marriage of Shakespeare and THE GODFATHER work. John Turturro starts off confidently but soon gets lost in the confusion. And poor Katherine Borowitz has
to perform her mad scene in pajamas with a flashlight. Instead of "All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand," she's forced to utter "It stains! It stinks!" If this sounds funny it isn't. It's all done very, very seriously. (Violence, profanity, nudity.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: Despite transplantation from its original setting, 11th-century Scotland, to contemporary New York City and the bloody world of the Italian mafia, MEN OF RESPECT remains a literal retelling of Macbeth, Shakespeare's tragic masterpiece. New York City seem… (more)