CIFF: The Last Rites Of Joe May And King Of Devil's Island

By Steven Pate in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 3, 2011 6:20PM

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This is part of Chicagoist's coverage of the Chicago International Film Festival.

Does any actor have a better, more natural Chicago accent than Dennis Farina? The perennial movie and television tough guy's effortless elocution is a product of being born, raised and spending 18 years as a police officer here before finding a second career playing cops and mobsters in Get Shorty, Snatch and dozens of others. It takes the self-assurance of a native (and perhaps a certain kind of mustache) to utter a line like "Who the fuck wants to live on the South Side?" as convincingly, even lovingly, as Farina does in The Last Rites of Joe May.

Farina plays an aging, small-time hood learning that time may finally have caught up with his life-long chase of "the short money." After several weeks in the hospital battling pneumonia, he couldn't find a break if one "happened" to fall off the truck in front of him: turned out of his apartment, his friends have gotten out of the business, his family has given up on him, and even the corner bar where he washes away his troubles now teems with youngsters seeking out and thereby extinguishing its dive bar vibe. While the only score we watch him attempt goes hilariously wrong, it's through the bond he forms with the woman and child who moved in to his apartment while he was hospitalized that he finds reward and an unlikely path towards redemption. Shot beautifully and indulgently around Chicago's West Town neighborhood, the director and Chicago native Joe Maggio's location work is a pleasure to take in, with a December cityscape so true to life that we felt like getting out our winter coat. The plot is undeniably cliched and the other performances, including that of Steppenwolf vets Gary Cole, Ian Barford and Chelcie Ross, adequately get the job done, but watching Farina stretch out to add the nuances to the typecast role he's had no room to flesh out over the years is the real joy here. The film will open the festival on Thursday, October 6.

In King of Devil's Island (Kongen av Bastøy), director Marius Holst give the sheen of a thriller to a depiction of a 1915 uprising at a juvenile reformatory on a remote island. Stellan Skarsgard stars as the headmaster of the prison-like school, where hard labor is the norm and hard punishments are frequent, the boys are referred to by their numbers, and a sadistic dorm master keeps the peace with brutal administration. The arrival of the brooding Erling and the vulnerable Ivar into the ranks begins a chain of events which will lead to a chaotic overthrow of the little prison's hierarchy, with disastrous results. It is glossy and mostly well-executed, even if there are some wisps of plot (such as the occasional appearance headmaster's disapproving wife) that go nowhere at all. Among the non-actors portraying the youth, Benjamin Helstad's turn as the charismatic Erling is often the only thing moving the picture along. This is Lord of the Flies meets Cool Hand Luke territory, and one's willingness to buy into it will depend on buying Helstad as liberating Christ-figure. King of Devil's Island plays Friday, October 7 at 5:45 p.m. and Friday, October 4 at 5 p.m.