Created by: David Simon
Directed by: Paul Haggis
Written by: David Simon and William F. Zorzi
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1
Eventually the housing construction is voted upon, passes, and thus begins the next chapter - finding where the separate housing units are going to go and who’s going to fill them. Intercut up to this point are a range of stories following various underprivileged individuals in the current crime ridden projects: Doreen Hendrson (Natalie Paul) who’s the daughter of a respectable married couple, trying to make it on her own and struggling with drugs after getting pregnant and her husband passes away; Norma O’Neal (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) who’s loving children are backed into a corner when their mom’s diabetes causes her to go permanently blind; Carmen Febles (IIfenesh Hadena) who simply wants the best of her children, moving back to Central America in order to escape the crime and discovering its no better, especially with her abusive ex-husband so close; and finally Gail Henderson (Brianna Horne) who decides to drop out of high school and gets pregnant at the age of 16, with a partner who keeps returning to jail.
If you want to solve the Oscar white-out problem look no further. Again, I’m not sure why a six part mini-series can’t be considered an epic film, because all of these black and hispanic women and men deserve to be recognized, with Illfenesh Hadena deserving the statue. With a brilliant structure, David Simon shows that these individuals are humans without portraying them as flawless. Doreen’s pride prevents her from enrolling or getting involved in the housing project, or even requesting help from her children as it’s clear that her vision is fading fast. After Norma meets a good man who struggles with asthma, the pair decide to build a life together. Norma gets pregnant and later discovers that her husband has died during an asthma attack. Unsure of what to do and how to care for a child, she grows overwhelmed, eventually turning to crack cocaine and developing a habit. After hitting rock bottom she kicks the habit and gets more involved with the development project by taking on a position in the housing board. Carmen’s story is most heart breaking as we see how easy it is to get tempted away from school in order to live the more relaxed and chill life of getting drunk and smoking weed. She eventually gets involved with a young man who gets her pregnant, who then goes to jail when accused of robbery, forcing Carmen to raise the baby all on her own, which she does amiably. Always forgiving the man in the hopes of providing her kid a decent life, he eventually gets involved with a murder, forcing Carmen into a life all on her own. Aside from Simon’s bold choice to make the entire cast strong, colored women is the fact that they have flaws and foibles as much as anyone. They’re affected by the terrible environment that the middle-class whites fear, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want more - whether they admit it or not. I can’t recall the last time I saw such depth with characters across the board (except for The Wire).
Which brings me to Nick Wasicko, who’s played by Isaac Oscar as one of the all time greatest mini-series performances. Not being aware of the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote - and therefor not at all anticipating the conclusion - we see an arrogant young man who rockets up to the top and develops all the smugness that goes along with it. While Nick is willing to compromise in order to get things done, he struggles as his opponents across the aisle do everything in their power to prevent progress. After a brief two year term, Nick loses to Spallone, who also after a brief two year term, then loses to another councilman. Nick struggles to develop an identity beyond his tenure as mayor, feeling that it was the one position that gave him any sense of meaning.
We never really consider what happens when someone leaves the top, and rarely get a glimpse into. Nick is desperate to gain back his spot at any cost, no matter what it costs him in terms of his friends, family, or colleagues and this hubris will eventually destroy him. Oscar Isaac’s performance is perfect, moving ever so slightly deeper into madness as the story progresses, that we’re constantly commiserating with his drive and ambition, even as we start to take the other side. For instance, he has a flirty relationship with fellow councilwoman Vinni Restiano (Winonna Ryder, in one of her greatest roles), in which they drink vodka and strategize. She helps him become mayor and advises him on the best way to get done what he needs to get done, comforting him when he loses the mayorship like a great friend. But when it’s clear that Nick has no place in the new mayor’s office and loses a city council election to take the same job he began with, Restiano puts her hat in the ring for President of the Council. But Nick too sees an opening, willing to sarifice his friendship in order to try and get back on track to become mayor, knowing that if you lose twice it’s over forever. He loses and further descends into madness. While we’re well aware of all he accomplished for the housing project, the citizens are quickly forgetting, and Nick’s space in history is fading fast. To think that this amazing series would be made about him is extremely touching, especially given his fate.
David Simon has written a novel for the screen, containing all the elements that the great literary or historical characters have provided us. Show Me a Hero is a movie that completely destroys the line between cinema and television. I would have watched this as a two part film without hesitation. The amount of layers in the story is staggering. The most obvious being his way of holding up a looking glass. In an age of congressional dysfunction, Simon shows us how laws are passed; the power of the citizenry; the foibles of our elected officials; and the powerlessness of executive office. Yet Mary Dorman shows what we hope most people will eventually discover. It’s respectable to have passion and fight for what you want, and it’s honorable to work to learn how both sides of the aisle work. Dorman’s humility in discovering how little she understood and her willingness to help those she discovered were powerless is something you always hope any bitter person experiences. There is the immediate superficial insight, and there is the glacier of nuance that fills any contentious situation. David Simon shows the necessity in understanding all of the components that comprise lawmaking and progression. How this show received so little attention is beyond me. I think it’s one of the greatest stories ever told in the last decade.
BELOW: Footage from the actual Yonkers city council meeting
Thoughts on films, old and new
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