Romance movies and gangsters have been a long-standing staple in the entertainment industry. The filmmakers of A Bronx Tale have fused the two together to create a gripping story, set in New York’s famous borough. Directed by Robert De Niro, and adapted from Chazz Palmitieri’s 1989 play, the gangster romance follows Calogero, a young, hardworking Italian-American man, as he navigates between two vastly different worlds. Living on the margins of the Bronx, Calogero’s life is shaped by his father’s hardworking values and his love for a tough, streetwise girl named Jane. Calogero’s story is told – through the lens of a burgeoning friendship – with a local crime lord, Sonny, who is played by De Niro.
The plot of this romance gangster movie is one of transformation, as Calogero is able to empathize with both the streetwise darkness and the more traditional, moral life his father advocates. Sonny plays an invaluable role in mentoring Calogero, teaching him what it takes to survive in such a treacherous environment. In the end, it is Calogero’s indomitable spirit and his father’s influence that lead to a new, empowered path. The infamous Courtroom Scene, in which Calogero stands up to a complicit jury and jury foreman in defiance of the mob, is applauded for its strength and conviction.
The themes of family, morality, and loyalty are the foundational stones of A Bronx Tale. A marriage between traditionalism, expressed through Calogero’s father Lorenzo, and the harsh realities of life in the Bronx, presented in Sonny’s interactions, allows the film to resonate with both its viewers and film critics alike. It is this harmonious blend that lead Roger Ebert, the legendary critic, to proclaim A Bronx Tale one of the best films of its time.
It is no wonder then, that in 2017, a musical version of A Bronx Tale debuted on Broadway. A musical adaption brings a new dimension to the classic gangster romance movie, allowing the story of Calogero to be told from a stage. It is this theatrical version that some critics argue presents the story in a much more powerful and deeply moving fashion. The show has enjoyed tremendous success since its Broadway debut, having won the prestigious Drama Desk Award in 2017.
On a broader level, A Bronx Tale has been highly influential in the wider gangster romance movie genre. A range of films and television series, including The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II, Gomorrah, and Goodfellas, have often been identified as having similar genre conventions, several of which were first presented in A Bronx Tale. There is no doubt that Calogero’s story has not only stood the test of time, but has also left an indelible mark on the American film industry.
As with any great movie, A Bronx Tale relies greatly on the cinematography. The cinematographer, Stephen P. Sallin, captures Tony Spinelli’s beautiful, muted color palette with ease. The ’60s era is seamlessly reproduced through a range of subtle camera movements, including intricate pans and creative transitions. Sallin’s unhurried approach to the camera allows it to settle into the atmosphere, understanding and respecting the audience’s time and emotions. There are passages throughout the movie that demonstrate his mastery over this art form, such as in the tense and gripping K-House scene, in which the camera is able to capture the energy of the actor’s performances while remaining respectfully unobtrusive.
The use of camera angles is also spectacular, with De Niro specifically targeting the length and height of shots depending on the emotion of the scene. This decision of composition allows the narrative to be told with clarity, despite the complexity of the various themes. It is this decision that De Niro believes separates his movies from all others. A Bronx Tale is, in many ways, a character-driven piece, and the decision to keep the camera close to the action truly enhances the audience’s emotional attachment to the storyline.
The music featured in the movie plays a very important role. The influence of classic doo-wop music is nothing but remarkable. Throughout A Bronx Tale, the soundtrack is used sparingly, to introduce key plot points, and at times, used to set the mood. In the opening scene, the classic Motown single ‘How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)’ begins to play, as we glimpse into Calogero’s youthful innocence, while touring his borough. One of the most compelling uses of music however, is in the audition scene, where Calogero listens in awe to the Doo-Wop group, Jackie Wilson and the Shirelles. This remarkable moment serves as a metaphor for Calogero’s own changing life in the Bronx.
Ultimately, the decision to use music to emotionally engage with the audience was a wise one. The soundtrack was highly praised, which lead to its release as an album. Chazz Palminteri, who was also compositing some of the tracks, deconstructed the traditional doo-wop genre for his take on this musical movement. The soundtrack beautifully transitions throughout the film, allowing it to reflect on multiple levels of the stage play.
The casting of the lead actors was, in many ways, one of the most critical elements for this movie. Robert De Niro, who is known for his method acting technique, took on the responsibility of cast and directing the movie. For the role of Calogero, De Niro scoured the nation for a young actor who, not only resembled him, but also possessed a character energy that felt genuine and passionate. De Niro had a natural rapport with young Calogero, played by Lillo Brancato, which allowed the movie to progress in an organic fashion. The strength of the father-son dynamic, which culminated with their tender embrace of each other during their reunion, is still praised today.
De Niro wasn’t the only one to have a hand in the casting of the movie. His co-star, Chazz Palminteri, played the antagonist, Sonny. Palminteri is a Bronx native, so his passion for the story was already deeply rooted. For this reason, it was important to find an actor who resonated with the character— a streetwise gangster infused with a certain dignity and respect, who is able to reason with his antagonists without resorting to violence. Palminteri ended up turning to Luca Palminteri, his youngest son, who was later cast and also served as a consultant on the set.
Since its 1993 release, A Bronx Tale has been celebrated as both a critical and commercial success. It has been remade, remastered, and rediscovered by a new audience. The production was inducted into the Bronx Hall of Fame in 2008, and in 2017, a feature-length documentary, A Bronx Tale: The Making of the Musical, was released. The film has been praised for its commitment to truth and its refusal to abstain from social issues, such as violence and racial prejudice, which were prevalent during the time of its creation. A Bronx Tale’s lasting impact is reflective of its timeless themes and poignancy, something that makes it a classic gangster romance movie.
A Bronx Tale was met with a great deal of respect and admiration from even the harshest of critics. The movie was nominated for a range of awards, including Best Feature Film, Best Picture and Best Music. It was able to transcend traditional boundaries and impress a range of audiences. It is not uncommon to find a range of viewers, of all ages, attending a screening of this classic gangster romance movie. It is also one of the few films in history to enjoy a 100% rating from Rotten Tomatoes. A Bronx Tale is arguable one of the most beloved gangster romance movies of all time.
The Style of Performance
The performances of actors throughout the movie are of great notoriety. Critics were taken aback by the rawness of some of the performances. From the seasoned veterans, including De Niro and Palminteri, to the new faces, such as Brancato, the performances were raw and unrefined. It was in this performative rawness that the viewers found themselves clinging onto the characters, due to the genuine emotion and commitment the actors brought to the screen. The actors often reacted to each other in a very realistic manner, something that not only elicited emotion, but also set the format of modern day improv.
It is in the actor’s performances that the film really hits home. For instance, during Calogero’s trial scene, the audience can feel the youthful defiance emanating from young Brancato’s presence. It is this deeply rooted emotion that makes the movie stand out amongst its peers. Throughout A Bronx Tale, the performances are never overdone, and remain true to the reality of the situation. They illustrate a certain truthfulness that the actors, both seasoned and inexperienced, bring to the film.
The script for A Bronx Tale is a true testament to Chazz Palminteri’s artistic prowess. His vivid retelling of his own life in the Bronx, allowing for a broad exploration of his characters and their motivations, creates a vibrant picture of American gangsterism. From soulful soliloquies to authentic verbals cues, Palminteri’s script manages to capture an essence of life in the Bronx that still remains today. It is this artistic detail, which allows the script to remain truly timeless and incredibly captivating to this day.
The script also shows remarkable promise, with moments of great storytelling. In the scene where Calogero sings a capella during his audition, Palminteri expertly crafts the climax of the movie through a series of carefully worded monologues. This is one of the greatest examples — although there are many — on how Palminteri’swords can bring a scene to life and have it resonate with audiences for decades to come.
Palminteri’s dialogue allows the viewer to empathize with Calogero on multiple levels and ultimately understand why he chooses a certain path — be it good or bad. This was largely achieved through Palminteri’s commitment to truth and understanding of the borough and its people. A Bronx Tale proves that strong storytelling, and an honest understanding of your character’s actions and motivations, is the real secret to success.