Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead

on December 01, 1995 by Lael Loewenstein
   One of the most exciting and compelling films to emerge from Cannes, "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead" boasts a superb cast, a stellar script and a first-time director (Gary Fleder) displaying a veteran's skill. Putting a contemporary twist on aspects of film noir and gangster movies, inflected with occasional humor and the supernatural, the crime drama scores as a disturbing and touching story, no small accomplishment for a work that defies easy genre classification.
   The film follows reformed gangster Jimmy the Saint (Andy Garcia), whose quiet life in Denver is disrupted when his ex-boss (a craftily impressive Christopher Walken) comes calling with a job. To carry out the hit, Jimmy collects other former hoods with names like Critical Bill (Treat Williams) and Pieces (Christopher Lloyd). When the job goes awry, they find a lightning-quick killer (brilliantly played by Steve Buscemi) on their tail; to complicate matters further, Jimmy is in love with a trusting young woman (Gabrielle Anwar).
   As Jimmy, Garcia embodies a fatalistic despondency reminiscent of Robert Mitchum and Jean Gabin; he blends a smooth romantic charm with the weary toughness of a man who has seen too much death. As the psychopathic and militia-trained Critical Bill, Williams is riveting. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent; especially strong is an almost unrecognizable Fairuza Balk ("Imaginary Crimes") as a well-meaning prostitute and friend of Jimmy's. Above all, "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead" benefits from an impeccably crafted script. Scott Rosenberg's dialogue is fresh, funny and original, and his scenes are devoid of cliches. If there are any moments when the film strains credibility, Fleder's direction is so tight that it's easy to overlook them. Finally, there's refreshingly little gore. This could be the only gangster film in which neither the hero nor the villain ever handles a gun.    Starring Andy Garcia, Treat Williams, Christopher Walken and Gabrielle Anwar. Directed by Gary Fleder. Written by Scott Rosenberg. Produced by Cary Woods. A Miramax release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 110 min.
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