The Funeral

Rated R –language
Three brothers: Vincent Gallo, Chris Penn, Christopher Walken. (© October Films)

This fall release is notable for its straightforward discussion of moral and theological issues. The story of crisis in the Tempio family of labor racketeers is told in flashbacks after the shooting death of the youngest of three brothers. The priest who comes to pray for the slain Johnny Tempio (Vincent Gallo), prophesies that if the family doesn't change its sinful ways they will all end up in perdition.

Though the family is involved in the "union" racket of the 1930's, collecting money from industries and their employees as phony representatives of labor, the 22-year-old Johnny has been caught up in the idealistic rhetoric of Communist organizers who promise a new kind of representation for labor. His murder creates suspicions aimed in several directions.

Eldest brother Ray (Christopher Walken), remembers the teaching of their father in Sicily that murder is sometimes preferable to losing the family's pride. Mainly concerned with getting revenge for Johnny's killing, he tells his wife (Annabella Sciorra) that the Catholic theologians teach that grace to refrain from sinning is a gift from God, so if he has no grace to resist evil it's because God hasn't given it.

Middle brother Chez (Chris Penn) finds his whole life's meaning in his brothers, and his world starts to unravel with Johnny's death. Even if he finds Johnny's killer and gets revenge, he can't see life as he's known it resuming again. He and Ray manage to round up the people who may have had reasons to kill Johnny, including a rival tough whose wife was seeing Johnny, but they learn that the murder was not the act of an enemy but instead little more than a grudge shooting to get even for a perceived insult. The lack of purpose in Johnny's death makes it even harder to take, makes the retaliation murder of his killer seem petty, and ultimately proves the Tempio family's undoing.

This is a dark film noire with comedic overtones from director Abel Ferrara (The Bad Lieutenant). Christopher Walken, at his typical best as a man caught between life and death, delves into grim humor when he tells a rival, "We should be running Ford Motor Company, but instead all we can do is fight each other." There's good material for discussion here, but this is not for the easily offended or upset.

Photo by the film's distributor

1997, Jon Kennedy