Phoenix (1998) Review



Phoenix is the kind of movie Hollywood has forgotten how to make these days – a nice little character driven noir piece with great performances and skillful direction.

Plot: a group of desperate cops decide to pull a heist but they soon learn nothing is easy and no one can be trusted.

Review: Ray Liotta plays Harry Collins, a Phoenix cop who is up to his eyeballs in debt to bookies. Harry is a problem gambler with a moral code that often gets him into hot water.

Talked into robbing a bookie (a slimy Giancarlo Esposito), by fellow cop Mike (a piggish LaPaglia), Harry soon finds himself trapped in a deadly situation that will force him to confront his demons and make peace with who he is as a man.

Phoenix is a nifty little gem of a film that showcases Liotta’s natural ability to be likable, no matter who he plays.  The late and great actor gives Harry multiple layers and never once makes him unsympathetic.  I miss Liotta and I wish more people had seen this film.

The supporting cast is a who’s who of character actors.  LaPaglia is great as Mike, Harry’s shifty best friend.  Likable to the untrained eye, we soon learn that Mike is a greedy, vile, man only out for himself and LaPaglia skillfully brings this jerk to life.

Anjelica Huston plays the woman Harry unexpectedly falls in love with and their scenes together are touching and heartbreaking, given that Huston tries to warn Harry about the consequences of his bad choices.

Daniel Baldwin and Jeremy Piven are great as always as Harry’s fellow cops and the brilliant Tom Noonan turns up as a crime boss, who despite his lisp and and calm demeanor, is someone you don’t want to mess with.

As for action, Phoenix is no John Wick, but it features some effective gunfights and the heist in question is fairly bloody.

Well directed by Danny Cannon ( Judge Dredd, The Young Americans), Phoenix is a nifty little noir thriller with a great soundtrack, commanding performances and literate screenplay.  I miss when Hollywood made films like this all the time.