Volume 21, Number 49 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | April 17 - 23, 2009
Koch on Film
BY Ed Koch
“The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” (+)
I have visited the City of Pittsburgh on two or three occasions, and I always find the experience of exiting the tunnel and seeing the city before me to be a real treat. It reminds me of what the plane crash survivors in the film “Lost Horizon” experienced when they first saw Shangri-La in the Himalayan Mountains: “a paradise on earth.”
“The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” which I would categorize as a film noir, is a very good picture.
Art (Jon Foster), a recent college graduate, is spending the summer working in a Pittsburgh bookstore and studying for his upcoming stockbroker exam. He wants to distance himself from the organized crime family to which his father, Joe (Nick Nolte), belongs. His father wants him to leave town and get away from the “family” as well.
Art meets Cleveland (Peter Sarsgaard) and his girlfriend Jane (Sienna Miller) at a party. The three of them interact socially and sexually. The tension of the film reminded me of David Lynch’s movie, “Blue Velvet,” starring Isabella Rossellini and Dennis Hopper. Cleveland, a member of the other gang in town, has screwed up to the point where his life is in danger from his own group. Art is also seduced by his boss at the bookstore, Phlox (Mena Suvari), and then it is sex, sex, sex in every corner of the store until she catches him with someone else. How does it all end? You’ll have to see the film to find out.
The acting of all the principals is excellent. Jon Foster is new on the movie scene. He looks a lot like Keanu Reeves but, I believe, is a far better actor. Peter Sarsgaard has appeared in numerous films including “Shattered Glass” and “Garden State.” I always enjoy watching him on the screen. Sienna Miller and Mena Suvari perform their roles well. In a discussion following the movie the director of the film, Rawson Marshall Thurber, described Miller as a Shiksa goddess. Does the fact that Peter Sarsgaard also lives in Greenwich Village add to the enjoyment of the movie? You betcha.
HS said: “I really liked the movie, which the reviewers generally panned. One wrote that it was worse than “Adventureland.” I thought it was much better, and not just because the characters were in their early twenties, not teenagers.
“The protagonist was Jon Foster (Jodie’s love child?), a clean-cut Wasp ingénue with a Jewish name whose father (Nick Nolte) is a mob boss. Father and son (mother died mysteriously) meet monthly at an upscale restaurant for an uncomfortable lunch.
“Jon has grown up in Pittsburgh, and he is trying to rebel against his father who wants him to go into the stock market and make a presumably honest living. Jon spies a beautiful girl (Sienna Miller), but she has a boyfriend (Peter Sarsgaard), who is impetuous and colorful, the opposite of Jon. Knowing of Jon’s interest in Sienna, Peter kidnaps him from his job and threatens him, quite realistically, with defenestration. The two boys bond and become drinking buddies. Peter insists on bringing Jon along on his dates with the beauty. Jon desires Sienna but is also attracted to Peter, a chore boy for another mob. The three hang together too long; the result is dramatic and graphic.
“Nice scenes of post-industrial Pittsburgh, middle-class neighborhoods, tree-lined streets, a gigantic abandoned smokestack, and the renowned entrance tunnel. Peter seems to screw up everything he does, and his own mob is sick of him. On the other hand, he is charming as well as good in bed. This is a different kind of movie, and it deserves a better fate than it has received from carping critics. What’s not to like?”