Posted: 04/10/2001

 

Monument Ave.

(1998)

by Del Harvey



Lord love the Irish.


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Somewhere in between his roles in The Suicide Kings, The Matchmaker, Wag The Dog, and The Thomas Crown Affair, Denis Leary worked his ass off on this little film, also known as Snitch. The Internet Movie Database lists seven separate production companies as being involved in the film, including Apostle Films and Tribeca, with Lion’s Gate as the distributor. With all that activity, it’s amazing the film was released at all. The opening weekend grosses were less than $50,000, and the film’s budget of $11 million has probably never been recouped. This is obviously a labor of love for Denis Leary and his friend Ted Demme, director of this year’s Blow and Leary’s HBO comedy specials Lock ‘N Load and No Cure For Cancer. The pair seem a good fit, but the producers should have stepped in and demanded more action up front and less of Leary’s rambling expository on the very dull lives of some Boston working class criminals.

The writing is credited to Mike Armstrong (Two If By Sea, The Last Bachelor), but much of it obviously belongs to Leary. And the writing is good, once we get beyond the overlong introductory first half-hour. This is the type of thing that any good television producer or director would have cut down to about 10 minutes without anyone really noticing. But, for all my complaining, this is in truth a very good “small” film, and a very fine little morality play by Leary and Demme.

Leary is Billy O’Grady, an Irish boy from “across the tracks” who runs with a bad crowd because that’s where the money is. He is obviously becoming bored with these high-school level shenanigans, but like the proverbial canary in its cage, cannot figure out how to lift the latch to fly away. Besides, he is not sure he would know what to do once he found this legendary freedom. So he continues on the same old day-in, day-out course. He and his cousins and buddies all work for Jackie O’Hara (Colm Meaney), the local criminal mastermind. What’s worse, he is also having an affair with Jackie’s girlfriend Katy (Famke Jannsen, X-Men: The Movie).

When his cousin Teddy (Billy Crudup, Almost Famous) appears home from his prison stretch some months early of his scheduled release, Jackie figures he’s been snitched on. Jackie has his two henchmen shoot Teddy right in front of Billy and all his cousins.

What follows is not just a tale of small-town revenge and the inevitable twists and turns of criminal life, but also a very touching story of family and paradises lost. There are a number of good performances here from all the players, including supporting cast members John Diehl and Noah Emmerich as Billy’s cousins, Martin Sheen as the frustrated detective, and Marilyn Murphy Meardon as Billy’s Mother, a remnant of Old Ireland as real as anything you could hold in your hand.

Monument Ave. may be hard to find, but it’s worth the effort.

Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly. He lives in Chicago and survived Lucasfilm, the Walt Disney Company, and the Directors Guild of America.



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