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(four stars for thespian addicts)
Starring: Brenda Blethyn, James Franco, Mena Suvari, and Harry Dean Stanton
Directed by: Nicolas Cage
Rated: R
Complete film review below

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Bluntly speaking? Author John Carlen has abstrusely captured that struggle of one man simply trying to be human in nonhuman, vile, circumstances. No apologies, no therapy twice a week to explain their choices or personal demons. He shows how what's an abhorrent way of life for one, simply is for another. They are rough at the ridges and that's just the way they was bred.

The film brutality blended a tale that sparks of Williams, O'Neill and Rabe. The all-American family cliché is kicked in its ass as we get a glimpse into what really goes on in one odd family unit's dwelling in the seedier part of town... Love it.

Story goes...Sonny (James Franco) has just come home from the army. We watch as he saunters through obviously familiar streets in the famous French Quarter. He doesn't look like a boy-man keen on rushing home though. He hints of dread.

He takes a deep breath and enters his mother's home. His mother is a flamboyant bit of tacky tarty "other" southern-style belle. Jewel (Brenda Blethyn) falls all over the boy but you instantly get the feeling her joy with him being home is partly a mother's natural high and partly shrewd businesswoman. She is hot to have Sonny get back into the family business. Sonny thinks he'd rather go work at a bookshop owed by a pal…

We start to see the sinister selfish love of Jewel as she manipulates those in her den of ill repute. Jewel is an older call-girl-turned-madam who "personally" trained Sonny in the works of rollin' in the romper room for play-dough that'll buy you goods. Yech. Ah, but Sonny has been bred into this "lifestyle" of pleasing others for cash. He doesn't hate his mother as you'd suspect, but feels obligation to make sure she's taken care of, like any good son.

Mommy dearest also has a guy pal, Henry (Harry Dean Stanton), that hangs around all the time too. He's a kindly old laggardly fella that protects his own and would - in an instant and with a sly wicked wink - gut you in the street for your wallet; nothing personal mind ya.

Hmm, what's this? A new pixie doe-eyed gal is working for mom? You can almost hear the porn music being cued as Carol (Mena Suvari) meets Sonny. They start a strange sweet relationship that is so surreal it works.

Meanwhile Sonny has a secret desire to live among the "squares.' He goes out on a date with a "normal" girl and is sweetly awkward in normal courting methods. Later he is taught that age old lesson that things are not always greener in the weedless perfectly coifed suburban side of the picket fence. Poor kid.

We root for Sonny, though in our hearts we feel this guy's long drown in his abyss of self doubt and irrevocably dejected after his brief attempt at "normalcy." Underneath the licentious looking glass-like lens Cage has shined on the film, Sonny is ultimately a touching love story and self-discovery piece. But like the rat that knows his all-empowering cheese is waiting at the end of the maze, he's grown indifferent after his multiple dead-ended attempts at making it to the heavenly cheese have proven useless, and he now sits content to starve. Defeated.

Sonny is brutally honest - always. These delightfully animated (and gritty) characters are wholly developed and filled with breath thanks to the remarkable insightful direction of Nicolas Cage (yes, that Nick Cage) and his incredibly brave and talented cast. The film leaves the big whitehead blemishes and that oh-so-real life-faults beautifully intact and serves them up in a "doesn't everyone have a cousin like this? No? "- way. It's a painting of a family actually, oddly, filled with love in their own twisted reality way. I adored this.

This James Franco gives incredible face; so descriptive - alert - telling. His subtle rippled performance is definitely a throw back to the old greats before him where a glance is way better then pages of descriptive dialog. Meanwhile, Jim's "rude boy" gorgeous now, but a tad young! Yes, yYoung but already holding developing trademark smirk and oozing that rare cargo of pure man heroin cut with the everyday Joe troubled guy.

Brenda Blethyn is electric. Her Jewel is like Medusa and you get the feeling as much as she loves Sonny he's nothing more than a wide-screen TV piece of property; precious for what he's worth to her, and what he cost her - now she expects years of colorful, trouble free performance from him.

Mena Survari is this little waif of a thing with a huge brain. She could slip into girly-girl roles and make a gigantic living playing the American Pie-like character till she's eighty. Instead at the height of her hype she chooses a mature, deep, wildly brave role. Women don't get a ton of these smart layered shindigs thrown their way. Mena obviously doesn't want to paint herself into some studio corner. Bravo!

Harry Dean Stanton just walks on film, effortlessly shags out a few words and slips off for a cig and bourbon - the Keith Richards of Actors. What's he been in 17624561 films? Love this guy.

Nic Cage has a cameo as a gay pimp that' He's polar opposite of the rest of the cast and suddenly there are these artsy filters askewing our perception ( because Sonny's wacked we are seeing it as he sees it). Yech. It was a pinch (read: completely ) over the top and almost ricocheted the film away from believable land. Luckily his wacky SNL like character had very little screen time and ultimately left us all with nothing more than a brief chuckle at its absurdity.

Bottom line, Nicolas Cage (who's aging like a fine early season bottle of Coppola Merlot) and his partner at Saturn Productions, Norm Golightly have again produced a masterpiece; a great feat considering their last offering was Shadow of the Vampire. It's not for everyone - it's not one for the kids and grandma… but, if you dig thespians giving tough material a whirl and dialog that sounds as if you've woken up in the closet of the character's home, you'll really dig this film - like me. So it's four stars for the thespian addicts and honestly a three and a halfer for heavy dark film lovers (excluding mention of the Cage Cameo Faux Pas).

Snack Recommendation: Antoine's Crème Brulee and switchblade sliced Tuna tar tar


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