Review of Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead
An interesting film
In addition to having a catchy title taken from a Warren Zevon song, this is a film filled with cool characters, smooth scenes, and sometimes beautiful backdrops in simplistic story gone awry.
I'll try and not give away any of the major story lines, but after seeing this film I thought it deserved a few good words.
One of the interesting things about this film is the main setting. Many films have their underworld characters meeting in a tavern or garage or in front of an alleyway. In this film, Jimmy the Saint (Andy Garcia) seems to conduct a great deal of his business at the malt shop.
This is where you are introduced the one of the other characters Joe (Jack Heff) who is a kind of chorus that talks to the audience and often reveals little insights. For example, instead of shaking hands, the characters will raise their hands and touch their palms and fingers together. This is because when you were being visited in jail, you were prohibited from touching because there was glass between you and your visitor so you had to act like you were touching through the glass. Joe offers little comments throughout the film and sometimes narrates through some of the scenes. Amusing in his colorful suits, he seems a throwback to some of the classic gangster films where nuances and inflections supersedes the all too common vulgarity in most modern films.
Jimmy the Saint also uses the malt shop as a refuge and confides in the soda jerk who runs it as if he were a parishioner visiting the county priest. Saint consumes malts frequently and the location seems to have a sanctity about it where peace and respect are demanded.
There is one scene in the malt shop where a ruckus occurs, but it is quickly shut down. Saint brings most of his acquaintances he meets in his underworld circle to this place and it is a location that is understood to be tolerant of the gangster lifestyles without becoming directly involved in the subculture.
A Cast of Characters
The story line isn't really that complicated in the film: Saint is given an assignment from one of his benefactors (Walken) and he rounds up four friends to assist with the mission.
However, a couple of things go wrong and then the characters are then doomed to their fates.
During the course of their mission you see theme of honor come about when most refuse the promised payment for the botched job. Each character in his own way really needs the $10,000 they were promised, but willingly refuse it when Saint tries to make good on his debt.
Have you been to Denver?
Some Classic Characterizations
The film does have some classic motifs that are found in the typical gangster films though. One of those is the godfather like individual played by Christopher Walken. In Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead, the Walken character is a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair and able to move around by using a device controlled by his mouth.
You see Walken only in his compound which appears to be a mansion of sorts where he has an on call nurse residing with him. The Man with the Plan as he is referred to in the film also has two henchmen who look the stereotypical mafia types. The Man with the Plan speaks methodically and calmly asserts his presence even though he could probably be easily overpowered by just about any of the other characters.
You are also introduced to a mysterious Mr. Shh (Steve Buscemi) who is a clean up man hired by certain organizations when special duties are required. Shh is treacherous, intelligent and tough and is the absolute opposite you would expect from a well dressed man who looks like he could possibly be an accountant or a librarian, rather than a hit man for the mob.
Jimmy the Saint is a caricature himself in that he looks the part as a well dressed, very dapper young man who is well self-assured. As part of his regular venture, he operates a service that provides the dying an opportunity to leave messages to their loved ones that can be accessed after they pass.
As a gangster he is usually quite admirable because his few tendencies towards violence in the film often seem somewhat justifiable - although I personally don't believe in justifying violence. He has a code and carries himself with a quiet dignity. He is intelligent and honors his friendships with an enviable code. He is someone you want to be friends with. He is someone you wish you could be.
Some Nice Scenaries
Well, as I mentioned before the malt shop is one of the backdrops for the movie and serves as a refuge.
A few other interesting places where the movie was filmed include the Museum of Natural History. I guess Denver was the setting for the film - it makes sense. In another scene along one of the highways, the characters are disguised as Denver City Police Officers. There are shots when the city skyline appears in the background and the characters move through the nightclubs and parks. Many shots are quite exquisite and the ambiance is at times, unique.
Well, I have to admit this is a film that I would have enjoyed a lot more had I seen it when I was younger. It's filled with some of the stereotypical nuances you expect from the genre. In fact it almost seems to be a parody of the gangster film.
I remember seeing a review years ago on Siskel and Ebert and the film's title kind of stuck out. I have given up television past ten years and rarely see film any more. I decided to watch this finally because I had always been curious about it.
A film worth watching and a bit amusing at times. There were moments when I wasn't sure whether the movie was serious or trying to be funny, but that is probably one of the unique qualities of this work.
If you haven't seen Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead, I recommend giving it a try. If you have seen the film, I would be interested in your take on it.