Classic Review – Fear City (1984)

Tom Berenger is terrific as tortured ex-boxer Matt Rossi

Tom Berenger is terrific as tortured ex-boxer Matt Rossi

Fear City

Directed by Abel Ferrara

Starring Tom Berenger, Melanie Griffith, Billy Dee Williams

Review by Jordan

The Driller Killer (1979) and Ms. 45 (1981) are seedy cult classics which among the initiated need no introduction, King of New York (1990) and Bad Lieutenant (1992) are exceptional, hard-hitting acting showcases for two of the decade’s defining actors in Christopher Walken and Harvey Keitel and The Addicion (1995) is a tightly constructed Vampiric allegory. What do all these fine films have in common? Direction by the enigmatic and perennially underrated Bronx-born Abel Ferrara, whose reputation should precede him but unfortunately remains known only to the shadow dwelling cinephiles that seek it out.

All the above are significant, powerful works, yet they are far from all that the American master has created… among the lesser-known yet equal in quality forgotten gems resides the pulpy and fantastical yet realistically drawn morality tale Fear City, a journey through the dingy moonlit streets of New York accompanying a scarred, tragic protagonist as he is forced to face his old demons in order to conquer a new one.

In his role of ex-professional boxer turned female talent agent Matt Rossi, Tom Berenger is outstanding, constantly restrained with the promise of aggression if pushed too-far – he drives proceedings at a steady pace before startlingly putting his foot to the floor towards a conclusion that incites a most hazy, unrefined battle of good vs. evil, light vs. dark or hope vs. annihilation. Also delivering strong turns include the largely unknown Jack Scalia as Rossi’s business partner and the striking Melanie Griffith (Body Double, The Bonfire of the Vanities) as his old flame and best girl, whose vanquished drug addiction threatens to resurface as her fellow strippers are systematically assaulted by an unknown slasher.

It seems many critics and viewers either skipped Fear City altogether upon release or dismissed it as throw-away exploitation trash. Shame, as the complex hero Matt Rossi represents is one of the most satisfyingly layered of Ferrara’s inspired creations, and the almost-Biblical subtext elevates it automatically into the realm of the memorably and pleasantly weird. For those looking for the entry level into the Driller Killer helmers catalog, this isn’t it (you should straight away purchase King of New York), but after you’ve warmed up with a few cold, usually bleak industrial gangster flicks, a trip to this City is certainly essential.

4 Boxing flashbacks out of 5
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5 responses to “Classic Review – Fear City (1984)

  1. Excellent review, and a shout-out to some of my fave films and actors. Thank you. Mr. Ferrara has made my list.

      • Yes, I’m telling you. Scorsese recognized Keitel’s talent, now he has a good relationship with Leo. Hope to see some more “dark NYC” from Marty too. Man I’m glad you guys are there!

  2. Good review, I’ll check it out. I must confess that, while I appreciate a lot King of New York, I don’t like much Bad Lieutenant (I’m a big fan of Keitel though!).

    • Ah that’s interesting Marta, I suppose though that while they are similar in environments the mood and pacing of them are very different. I hope you like Fear City!
      Jordan

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