River Made to Drown In (review)

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It’s been sitting on a shelf since 1997 and the director is the pseudonymous “Allen Smithee” — one of these signs alone would be enough to set off alarms, and together they should spell disaster. And yet here we have a finely attuned and deftly executed little film, unassuming and unpretentious, about hustlers in Hollywood and the impossibility of escaping ourselves. Rich lawyer Thaddeus (a pre-coming out Richard Chamberlain), dying of AIDS, pays a visit to Allen (a pre-Sopranos Michael Imperioli), who once made a living on the streets and is trying to go straight as an artist. Allen is now involved with a wealthy gallery owner, Eva (Ute Lemper); Thaddeus, a former client of Allen’s, implores Allen to find someone else from his past, Jamie (James Duval), who’s still hustling. Who else is still hustling, and hustling whom? Whoever the director actually is, he creates a fractured and unsensationalized exploration of society’s castoffs and those who cast themselves out: Imperioli proves he’s got more in him than just goombahs, and Chamberlain is just downright heartbreaking.

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