Friday, May 15, 2009

Kansas City @ the Charles Theatre this week

The Charles' Robert Altman series is coming to a close. This week's offering is KANSAS CITY.

Saturday, May 16 at Noon
Monday, May 18 at 7 PM
Thursday, May 21 at 9 PM

1996 Robert Altman. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Miranda Richardson, Harry Belafonte, Michael Murphy, Dermot Mulroney, Steve Buscemi, Brooke Smith, Jane Adams, Don Byron, Nicholas Payton, Cyrus Chestnut, Ron Carter, Craig Handy, Joshua Redman. 116m.

Kansas City may well be the misunderstood classic of Robert Altman's late career. Reviled by audiences and critics alike on its release, the film is far truer to the director's rebel impulses than, say, the overpraised Gosford Park, and deserves a serious second look. A dark valentine to Altman's hometown during his childhood in the 1930s, the film counterpoints KC's corrupt Pendergast political machine and its gangsters with the city's great jazz heritage. At the heart of the story, a star-struck lost girl (Jennifer Jason Leigh in a controversial but daring performance) kidnaps the wife of a local politico (Miranda Richardson) in a cockeyed scheme to save her boyfriend, a small-time hood in trouble with the city's powerful African American mob. The result is a baleful, bleak but ultimately powerful meditation on identity and its illusions, punctuated by joyful bursts of exhilarating jazz (the film features an all-star roster of contemporary stars like Craig Handy and Joshua Redman playing giants like Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young), and by the musings on race of Seldom Seen, Harry Belafonte in a powerful performance as the wise but terrifying head of the mob. All the hoary clich├ęs of gangster films are here dismantled and made strange, a strategy that may not be crowd-pleasing but that bears the stamp of a true iconoclastic. (Linda DeLibero)