Buffalo '66, a film review

Perhaps Vincent Gallo is not the type of poster-child that Buffalo's PR handlers would prefer: his first film brought boos and catcalls from the audience of Cannes and showed un-simulated fellatio, his statements are often crude and racist (he put a "hex" on Roger Ebert and claimed to cause his colon cancer and put himself up as an escort "even for black chicks") was arrested for flashing and regularly displays a reactionary, selfish, spiteful attitude: "I stopped painting in 1990 at the peak of my success just to deny people my beautiful paintings, and I did it out of spite."

However, in 1998 Vincent Gallo produced a low-budget film entitled "
Buffalo '66" that perhaps best captures the soul of devastated Buffalo during the dark days when industry collapsed and the Steel Belt rusted. Gallo's film is not uplifting or funny, but stark and real. In many ways similar to the Coen Brother's masterpiece Fargo it is a picture of a world, Buffalo, and the things that human beings do to one another in it. At times, such as with his mother's obsession with the Bills or his father's murder of his puppy as a child, the film borders on the absurd but it never pushes completely beyond reality. It certainly never leaves Buffalo.

The basic plot of the film is that Billy, Gallo's character, is released from prison. It turns out that he has been lying to his parents for years, claiming to work for the CIA and therefore out of communication. He plans to go home for one visit before murdering the Buffalo Bills kicker that he blames his imprisonment on (the plot gets a bit more complicated here), but there is one catch: he told his parents he was married and needs a wife. Desperate, he kidnappes Layla (Christina Ricci) and coerces her to pose as his wife for an incredibly awkward homecoming.

The film is a collection of juxtaposed contradictions and confusions: a city without jobs, a family without love, an unnecessary kidnapping that becomes the emotional center of two lives and a conflicting tangle of lies whose targets care so little that they never see them.

Do I like Buffalo '66? Well, I own a copy and would suggest it to others, but it is not a film that I enjoy. It is a story, a snapshot, of a world that is compelling and true especially in comparison with the last film I saw set in Buffalo, Bruce Almighty. Buffalo '66 is about a place and time that was filled with contradictions, lies and violence and it does not shrink from that, but it also does not revel in them, but also shows that the actors within those circumstances are still human and in the end gives perhaps a glimmer of hope.


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