Summer of Sam

The summer of 1977 was a hot one in New York City. It was the summer Reggie Jackson led the Yankees to the World Series. It was the summer of black outs and riots. It was a summer of racial tension, of fear, of murder. It was the summer of Sam.

 

There are over 8 million stories to tell from New York City...and this was Spike Lee's version of one of them.

 

Residents of an Italian American neighborhood live in fear as the serial killer Son of Sam terrorizes the streets. Changing their life styles and routines, Spike Lee takes us inside the world of a pair of young couples as they survive the summer of 1977.

 

John Leguizamo plays an unfaithful high strung hairdresser married to Mira Sorvino, a hard working waitress. Adrien Brody plays a childhood friend of the neighborhood who returns to the streets as new punk rock convert in love with Ruby who just happens to be the street side slut.

 

All the stories inner twine as the killing continues. Fear turns to anger and anger to irrationality as the residents begin turning on each other, desperately searching for the killer among them. Who is the Son of Sam? He could be anyone...the Vietnam vet cab driver, the child abusive priest, Donny at the subway, or even Ritchie the Punk Rocker.

 

I have by far seen all of Spike Lees films but to date this is my favorite. I love the characters and situations that they put themselves into. I love the turmoil Leguizamo faces. The judgment and grief he shoves into his world. Adrian Brody was great, probably playing one of the most pivotal roles in his career.

 

I loved how Spike Lee brought the city to life with his cuts to the news and narrators, the use of footage from the period, and the marriage between the characters and the times.

 

Most of all I loved that the movie was about the neighborhood more than it was about the killer. It was about the people and their lives...it was about how fear affected them and less about the psycho and his battle with reality.

 

For some reason this movie reminded me a lot of Zodiac. The emotions that the camera fed me, the desperation of the characters, and the city as a living thing all reminded me of David Fincher's last effort.


My favorite scenes of the movie are as follows. I loved the introduction to Leguizamo's character. He comes riding into frame, rolling up the the disco with not cuts or edits. He walks in like Goodfellas and grooves into the dance floor. He starts get jiggy with it with his wife and suddenly the busy dance floor cuts to no one. Just the husband and wife completely absorbed with each other...dancing away. Beautiful...brilliant. I loved the first time when Leguizama is at the dead end street introducing his friends. He leans on the barricade smoking his cigarette and popping pills. Scared for his life he stares out into bay. Different friends and cronies come in and out of the scene...a great one. These are a few of the several that pop into my mind.
 

Summer of Sam succeeds at creating a world with living breathing characters. It succeeds at drawing you into a time and place and creating the fear that lived there. A beautifully gritty and in your face film that doesn't shy away from the dirt and the scum that people lived in. Borderline NC-17...that's your warning but a great movie none the less.

Reviewed by: shea
11 Comment(s)
Andy said...
I haven't seen this since I saw it at the theater, but I remember not liking something about it. But I was young and stupid then so that's not saying much.
Josh said...
I've always liked this one. I saw it in the theater and had to hear everybody I went with bitch about it on the way home. They were all pissed because it wasn't necessarily about Burkowitz, but how his murder spree affected the lives of a bunch of friends in a neighborhood. Which is exactly what I loved about it. It was so different, and is still one of Spike Lee's better films.
* (asterisk) (http://suchastheyare.blogspot.com) said...
Like this movie a lot. The UK DVD version has a commentary by Spike Lee, too. I dig Spike Lee and will gladly watch most anything he makes.
martha said...
this sounds awesome! i might have to put this in the queue and jump it to the beginning b/c i'm so intrigued.

plus, adrien brody is hot, and i LOVE the idea of him as a punk. fantastic review, shea :)
Great review, this is a good one.

Saw Occupato this week, nice work. I really enjoyed it.
Andy said...
Am I the only one who didn't think this was great?
Red said...
No, Andy. I didn't think much of it either. I can't get into Spike Lee's chaotic world, and all his characters are so bloody unlikeable...
Shea said...
I agree with you Red...it is hard to like the characters...but I love how torn and tormented they get. For example Leguizama in this movie...that kid just kept screwing up. Couldnt do anything right.

And Brody? You didnt love Brody?

I am usually not a Spike Joint kinda guy. I can appreciate them but dont typically like them. But this one I dig.

I bet you liked Insider man didnt you?
Andy said...
I hated Leguizama. I don't like him in much. His performances always seem forced and exagerated. I did love Brody. But I was really getting into punk at the time I saw it.
Red said...
Of course, I always forget that Inside Man is Spike Lee! I did love it, despite Jodie Foster, who I felt added nothing to it. Great film. I liked that it was so controlled, unlike... well, films like Do the Right Thing. What a screaming mess that was.

And of course, I loved When the Levees Broke (just bought it on DVD, actually), but then I am a documentary whore...

Paul said...
I just love Spike's style, it's so freaking cool. I agree with you Shea, the story told from the perspective of a small neighborhood is great. We may not like the characters, but we learn about them and know them, we see them fall and turn on one another...I mean this is a movie about chaos and resolve.

Thought Brody was great, his character was the outlier, the voice of reason, which is ridiculous considering what his character did. Leguizamo, whatever, certainly better than Spawn.

Haven't seen Inside Man yet, but I did really like He Got Game.