The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) (R)
"The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" has been called John Cassavetes' post-noir masterpiece. It resembles the gangster movies that would follow in the 90s, it cements the fact that the independent film would become one of the more critically acclaimed sub genres of film, and it proved that a movie that's bound to be a hit can bomb at the box office just as well as the next one.
A complete flop as far as money-making goes, "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" was recut and re-relased to the same results...no one wanted to see it. Today it is celebrated but it saw no success at the time...which, to be fair, isn't uncommon in film—"Citizen Kane" and "Blade Runner" are good examples of this.
But the celebration that "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" now has is only in select circles of those who adore John Cassavetes.
Cosmo Vittelli (Ben Gazzara) is an 'average man' living the American dream. He owns a strip club where the awkward cabaret numbers that feature odd characters draw in hordes of screaming people. There is a man who everyone calls Mr. Sophistication, who will sing on stage with the girls...it's really a lot more awkward than it sounds.
Odd theatrics aside, Cosmo is a slick man...he goes out one night with a bunch of girls and does some unnecessary gambling. He suddenly finds himself 20,000 dollars in debt.
He swears that he'll get the money, but the men he owes don't want to wait.
They show up at his club and make him an offer that he can't refuse.
"The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" greatly captures the hectic lifestyle of Cosmo, while still finding time to let his intimate moments not be rushed. It's wonderfully filmed, but can be quite off-putting. It's almost incoherent at times, bordering on avant-garde films and the underground cinema. But then, just like that, you get a reminder that the plot of the film is just a glorified gangster flick without many twists and turns.
Cassavetes seems to be making some sort of commentary on humanity...or something like that. His camera ogles the girls, who appear just to be set pieces; but their actions prove this wrong time and time again.
It could feel like a sexist piece, but I think that there's more to it than that. Then again, I don't think I care enough about the movie to analyze it that much.
The film drags...at not even two hours long, that's not a good thing. Too much time is spent on the night club scenes, which don't convey anything nor do they help move the slight plot along, and not enough time is spent giving us a reason to either love or hate Cosmo.
The title itself sort of gives the movie away, which could be another reason that "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" didn't do that well at either or its releases.
It's a wee bit stereotypical, the way that the film handles every scene. It makes certain not to glorify Cosmo nor condemn his action. A fractured protagonist through-and-through, it may seem to some that Cosmo got the fuzzy end of the lollipop, but I couldn't really empathize with him. It could have been the way the film was edited together or the writing, but there's a glaring disconnect between the emotion you're supposed to be feeling and the images you see.
For a Cassavetes' fan, I'm sure it's a nice treat. For anyone else, I'm not sure it is even enjoyable.
Posted by Micah Jones