Posted: 09/15/2000


The Opportunists


by Del Harvey

Opportunity knocks. Thankfully for the viewer, Christopher Walken and Cyndi Lauper answer.

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I bear a great affinity for Christopher Walken. So much so that I dragged my girlfriend and her best friend to see this film at the lovely old Rialto Theater in South Pasadena. The theater was a cool and pleasant respite from the heat of that particular day. Thankfully, the film wasn’t too bad, either.

Walken plays an ex-con whose attempt at living the straight life isn’t going too well. He’s behind on the rent on his business (which is suffering), and his checks to the Catholic home where his aunt lives keep bouncing. Then two unexpected events occur which lead to the inevitable return to crime for our erstwhile hero.

The first is the sudden appearance of a young Irishman (Peter McDonald) who claims to be a distant cousin from the homeland. The second is the appearance of an old partner in crime (Donal Logue), who has a perfect scheme which, of course, needs Vic’s (Walken’s character’s) safecracking talents. Director Myles Connell seems to be telling us that opportunities like these do not occur every day, but it’s up to us whether or not we take advantage of them.

The film’s story is interesting enough so that it falls just shy of hackneyed and uninspired. The pace is excrutiatingly slow, however, and the film is saved only through the talents of Walken, character actor Tom Noonan, and the casting against type of Cyndi Lauper.

Lauper plays Sally, Vic’s girlfriend and the owner of a neighborhood bar. When it becomes painfully obvious that Vic is having problems, she offers him the money she has been saving to renovate her business. It is nice to see this fine singer in a role that fits for a change. Similarly, Vera Farmiga, the young woman playing Walken’s daughter, turns in an intriguing performance which left my compansions and myself wanting to see more of her. I hope that she finds meatier roles in the future, for the ability shown in this small film was very impressive.

The young Irishman, Peter McDonald, was difficult to understand, whether due to poor sound equipment or simply because his accent is so heavy. He seemed to turn in a fine acting performance, but it is difficult to judge when you find yourself asking the person seated next to you in the theatre, “What did he say?”

Walken (The Deer Hunter, The Prophecy films, True Romance, Pulp Fiction) is good in almost everything he does. His individual talent to escalate a mundane character into an interesting viewing experience is a rare treat among actors of any era. He does make the lead character interesting, and he almost singlehandedly salvages a film that, otherwise, should have gone direct to cable.

The direction, production, sound and image quality all have the feel of a student film. As a first effort, these elements would be passable. Myles Connell has done one earlier theatrical release as well as an episode of Homicide: Life On The Street. The story is interesting but nothing that hasn’t been done before. The ending leaves a number of questions unanswered. In particular, I was left wondering if the film would not have been even more fun to watch if there had been few more scenes to satisfy these questions, and a few judicious cutting of some the more plodding bits earlier on.

Thanks to the always superb efforts of a true craftsman such as Christopher Walken, and the surprise turns of both Cyndi Lauper and Vera Farmiga, The Opportunists is an enjoyable film to watch. Eventually.

Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly. He is a survivor of Lucasfilm, the Walt Disney Company, and the Directors Guild of America.

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