City Hall - * * *

City Hall is an acute and perceptive drama about politics enshrouded by a rather routine mystery. Al Pacino is the mayor of New York, and John Cusack is his eager deputy mayor. When a tragic downtown shooting results in the deaths of an undercover cop, an innocent preschool boy, and the nephew of a powerful crime lord, the mayor’s office is flooded with questions. Who shot the boy? Why was the cop there alone? Why was the nephew parolled a few years earlier, rather than being sent to jail. Cusack spearheads an investigation into the affair, and uncovers some scandalous answers. But that isn’t the real story in City Hall. The real story is what is going on beneath the surface: the politicking, the compromises, the deals that are made by and for the mayor. Pacino does a superb job as the mayor, making him an accessible and understandable character. Cusack also excels as the heart of the film. City Hall fumbles a bit with the other characters. Bridget Fonda’s lawyer is useless and extraneous. Martin Landau and David Paymer are wasted in bit parts. Only Danny Aiello rises out of the supporting miasma as a Democratic party leader with a passion for showtunes. The script is strong is places, but seems to have been overanalyzed. Its complex underweaving of the political maneuvers is to be lauded, but the overall framework is a bit predictable, and the ending seems to pull its punches. However, even when you know what’s coming, the two main performances make this one to watch.

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