MONUMENT AVE. (SNITCH) (director: Ted Demme; screenwriter: Mike Armstrong; cinematography: Adam Kimmel; editor: Jeffrey Wolf; cast: Denis Leary (Bobby O'Grady), Ian Hart (Mouse Murphy), Jason Barry (Seamus O'Grady), John Diehl (Digger Bruce), Famke Janssen (Katy O'Connor), Colm Meaney (Jackie O'Hara), Billy Crudup (Teddy Timmons), Martin Sheen (Hanlon), Jeanne Tripplehorn (Annie), Greg Dulli (Shang), Noah Emmerich (Red); Runtime: 93; Lions Gate Releasing; 1998)

"A realistic, hard-boiled peek at an old Irish, close-knit neighborhood."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A realistic, hard-boiled peek at an old Irish, close-knit neighborhood, in Boston's blue-collar Charlestown section. The neighborhood is beginning to change a bit with "yuppies" moving in; and, the more dangerous threat of blacks possibly moving in. This is upsetting to these insulated residents, fearful of what they don't and can't understand. The focus of the film is on Bobby O'Grady (Denis); he is living with his mum while unemployed and hanging out with Mousy (Ian) and his cousin from Dublin, Jason (Seamus), and his other bar cohorts. They steal cars for the local crime boss of the area, Jackie O (Colm), who tightly controls the neighborhood with a menacing friendliness. Jackie O strictly enforces the code of the neighborhood, making sure that no one squeals to the cops. His motto is: "loyalty is what counts the most."

What makes this over-used type of storyline for many recent films stand out from the rest is that there is no mistake, this is the actual mentality of the neighborhood. The film is seen through the eyes of Bobby, the film's lowlife protagonist. We are stuck with him and, perhaps, to a certain extent even commiserate with him, seeing that he can't escape from being born into a life of crime even if he has a good mum and doesn't appear to be a really bad sort of a person. He's just a little wild and rough in spots. His main problem seems to be that he has no one around to point him in the right direction. The one person, Jason, whom he could talk to, he can't. Jason could only express his anguish that things are rotten over here and he does not find Bobby to be receptive to what he says about altering his behavior. That is the deep sadness about the film, the neighborhood traps everyone into its malaise and we feel that there can be no escape.

It all seems so pointless.

When Jackie O starts rubbing out those close to Bobby just on the perception that they might have said something to the police, Bobby starts to do a slow boil. He is unable to think straight about what he should do; but, breaking the code of silence is never one of his options. Thrown into the mix is a sexy neighborhood girl who is a bit of a headcase herself, Katy (Famke). She is Jackie O's girl, but is seeing Bobby on the side. She is extremely jealous if Bobby goes after any other girl. This is evident in the scene that really summarizes the direction the story is going; Bobby out of frustration at seeing Jackie O and Katy together at the local bar they hang out in, decides to pick up an attractive yuppie, Annie (Jeanne) who came into the bar out of curiosity. This pick up does not go well, and he is rejected. Then the most annoying and daring scene in the film takes place, as he goes riding with his pals and they spot a black man in their neighborhood and they threaten him with violence. Even though nothing comes of it, just the threat of overt violence and the hatred shown to this outsider. However this incident becomes transfixed on our protagonist, forewarning us that there is no way out for him.

Monument Ave. works well as a potently atmospheric film that captures the mood of a neighborhood but cannot penetrate the souls of the individuals who live there. The boundary line from yuppieville to blue-collarville is Monument Ave., and our boys can't cross the boundary line to respectability; that is, without being thieves.

There is an emptiness in the lives of these troubled youngsters. This is best shown when they have inane conversations about movie stars' tits and their frivolous neighborhood adventures, while snorting cocaine and getting boozed up. Their life seems to be a tragically wasted one. Even with all their bravado, they feel and act like losers. The Irish cop Hanlon (Sheen) knows them having grown up in the "hood," even though he now lives in the more affluent suburbs. He expects so little from them, knowing they are stuck by their code of silence and the loyalty they have for their gangs.

The power of the story has stalled out somewhere in the midst of all the turbulence in the young men' lives, leaving them with no place to go after all the cursing and shooting pauses for a break. As the message is simply, that nothing changes here. If you don't go along with the way things are done by the crime bosses, your only other choice is a dead-end job.

Bobby has this anguished look on his face, as he does what he has to do and is as successful as he will ever be in his lifetime after he settles his old debts the only way he knows how to. His friends drink a toast to him, while the inane bar conversation mixes in with the bar music as the picture fades out on this insightful but unfulfilling film.

REVIEWED ON 11/9/98                GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"