There are gangsters we love for their badness, and others – more poignant, more affecting – who take soul-changing action at the last minute, redeeming their earlier crimes. In Joe Maggio’s sharply-drawn The Last Rites of Joe May, Dennis Farina gives a stirring yet unsentimental performance as an aging, mob-connected Chicago crook who makes one of those heroic final gestures. (“Last” is right there in the title; you can’t be too surprised at the finality).
Joe’s big-time dreams never came close to reality. By the time he gets out of the hospital after a long stay, his apartment has been given to a single mother (Jamie Anne Allman, Rosie’s suspicious aunt from The Killing) and her young daughter. She can use some rent money; he needs a place to stay. But the actors give such delicate performances that they avoid the saccharine pathos that plot suggests. There is even a great tragi-comic set piece in which Joe, desperate to get back in his old game, treks around Chicago trying to peddle a 50-pound slab of frozen lamb. Maggio’s (Virgil Bliss) film may be small, but it’s full of texture.
The grand gesture? Maybe you’ll see it coming, but it arrives with a visceral thud to the heart. Farina, who has played tough guys on both side of the law, makes Joe May a touching addition to the long line of gangsters gone good. Take a look, in this separate post, at some Other Gangsters We Love.
The Last Rites of Joe May is on VOD now, and opens in theaters in NY on Nov. 4th