The Cotton Club
is routinely eclipsed by the controversies that surrounded its tumultuous production, but the film itself offers abundant pleasures that should not be overlooked. If Apocalypse Now
represents the triumph of director Francis Coppola's perilous ambition, then The Cotton Club
represents the ungainly glory of uncontrolled genius, as brilliant as it is out of its depth. As an upscale homage to classic gangster films it's frequently astonishing, cramming a thick novel's worth of plot and characters into 129 minutes, gloriously serviced by impeccable production design, elegant cinematography, and stylistic flourishes that show Coppola at the top of his game.
What The Cotton Club lacks is cohesion. Written by Coppola and novelist William Kennedy (then enjoying the peak of his critical acclaim), the film struggles to exceed the narrative scope of The Godfather, but its multiple early-'30s plotlines fail to form any strong connective tissue. It's three (or four) movies in one, with cornet player Dixie Dwyer (Richard Gere, playing his own jazzy solos) drifting from one story to the next--loving a young, ambitious vamp (Diane Lane, with whom Gere shares precious little chemistry), enjoying the success of a hot-shot hoofer (Gregory Hines), and protecting his brazen brother (Coppola's then-newcomer nephew, Nicolas Cage) from the deadly temper of mob boss "Dutch" Schultz (James Remar). Bob Hoskins and Fred Gwynne also score big in grand supporting roles, but The Cotton Club is perhaps best appreciated for its meticulous recreation of Harlem's Cotton Club heyday, and the brilliant music (Ellington, Calloway, etc.) that brought rhythm to gangland's rat-a-tat-tat. --Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
Francis Ford Coppola's reconstruction of life in the famous 1920s Harlem jazz club stars Richard Gere stars as Dixie Dwyer, a trumpet player who saves a gangster's life and becomes unwittingly involved in the world of organised crime. Caught between the mobsters and the musicians, Dixie rubs shoulders with the likes of dancer Sandman Williams (Gregory Hines), club owner Owney Madden (Bob Hoskins), and tough guy Frenchy Demange (Fred Gwynne), all the while having a dangerous affair with gangster's moll Vera Cicero (Diane Lane). The film merges the musical with the gangster film and captures the period with detailed sets, lavish costumes, and a rich musical score.