Phoenix (1998)

Rating: B

Dir: Danny Cannon
Star: Ray Liotta, Anthony LaPaglia, Daniel Baldwin, Jeremy Piven

This film plays somewhere between Bad Lieutenant and Reservoir Dogs – the latter echoing through irrelevant dialogue about pop culture and the flashback structure, though the latter is at least a staple of the modern noir genre this fits firmly into. The first thing we see is a shot man staggering out of his car, and the events leading up to this then play out. This is a meaty slice of the aforementioned noir, with Liotta as Harry Collins, a cop with a gambling problem who conceives of recruiting his fellow cops – none of whom are exactly straight-arrows either – into ripping-off the local loan shark to solve his problem.

For once, Liotta gets to play a mainly sympathetic character with a lot of complexity: he could welch on his bet and bring the heat down on his bookie, but refuses. Yet he has no compunction about armed robbery. He won’t sleep with a girl he assists at an abortion clinic. Yet goes after her mother (Anjelica Huston). Certainly, he’s an angel compared to his colleague Mike (LaPaglia), who enforces payment for the loan shark and is, frankly, scary. As the title suggests, our interest was partly piqued by the location – however, the city depicted here was unconvincing, not least because they had more rain in 104 minutes than we get in six months. Despite this lack of any sense of location, it’s got plenty of atmosphere and solid performances. Also look out for Giovanni Ribisi and Brittany Murphy in minor roles.