MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1999
Stars : Sharon Stone (Gloria), Jean-Luke Figueroa (Nicky), Jeremy Northam (Kevin), Cathy Moriarty (Diane), Mike Starr (Sean), George C. Scott (Ruby Rich), Bonnie Bedelia (Brenda)
"Gloria" is a remake of one of indie auteur John Cassavettes' more mainstream films, a 1980 melodramatic thriller about a gangster's moll and her relationship with a seven-year-old Puerto Rican boy whose family is gunned down by the mob. Having not seen the original, which starred Gena Rowlands, I can't make any point-by-point comparisons of it with this remake. Still, I hope Cassavettes' version was a more involving experience than what director Sidney Lumet has produced here, a film that plods along for two hours with a few good moments, but not much in-between.
Sharon Stone stars as the titular character, a New York blond bombshell with an attitude who just got out of the joint in Miami after serving three years for a crime she didn't commit. She took the rap for her then-boyfriend, Kevin (Jeremy Northam), a minor gangster working for big-time mob boss Ruby Rich (George C. Scott). When Gloria arrives in New York and sees Kevin again (he never visited her in prison--what a lout), she decides she doesn't like her old life and wants to turn it around.
Meanwhile, Kevin's hoods have just killed an entire Hispanic family because the father, a low-level accountant working for the mob, was keeping tabs on all the shady financial dealings. Before the gunman breaks down the door, the father gives a computer disk--containing names of Congressman, police officers, and others who are on the take--to his seven-year-old son, Nicky (Jean-Luke Figueroa), hoping he can escape. Nicky doesn't, and when Gloria arrives at Kevin's apartment (which used to be hers), she finds out they are holding the young boy and planning to kill him.
Already fed up that Kevin has welched on his deal to set up a bank account for her (after all, she served three years to protect him), Gloria steals Nicky away from the gangsters and spends the rest of the film running ... running ... running ... although she never makes it out of New York. Of course, Gloria, being a self-proclaimed "broad," doesn't know the first thing about taking care of a seven-year-old, especially one as feisty as Nicky, so there is plenty of room for wise-ass arguments and bitter complaining in this oddest of odd couples.
The upshot of all this is that "Gloria" is a "discovery" movie--Gloria discovers that she has a soft spot for Nicky, despite her proclamation that she doesn't even like kids. Gloria and Nicky spend the first half of the movie referring to each other by labels--"Kid" and "Lady"--and the second half of the movie becoming surrogate mother and son. Gloria reaches deep inside and finds her maternal instincts, even though at the end of the film she's still proclaiming that she won't cook (Nicky has no problem with that--"We'll just order out pizza").
"Gloria" is really a showcase for Sharon Stone, and she makes the most of it. With a heavy and effective New York accent, she struts through the film in a variety of revealing outfits and six-inch heels, coping attitude at everyone unless she's breaking down into tears when she thinks she's lost Nicky. Stone is good on a surface level, if you can tolerate an obnoxious New York dame as the movie's central character. She doesn't show a great amount of depth, though, and the essence of her character is "good heart hidden beneath a tough exterior." Nothing new there, and at times I wished I knew more about her character--Where did she come from? How did she end up with Kevin? What was the crime she did time for?
As Nicky, bright-eyed newcomer Figueroa is quite good; he's never too saccharine or sentimental, thus he gets our sympathy not because he's "cute," but because we know he's defenseless in a violent situation he had no hand in creating. On the other hand, English actor Jeremy Northam is wildly miscast as Kevin (by the way, what kind of a name is Kevin for a gangster?). Northam is never in any real sense threatening as he needs to be, and he doesn't even come off as particularly slimy. He's about as vanilla as a mobster can be.
The ultimate problem with "Gloria" isn't casting; it's that that the narrative has little momentum, no dramatic oomph, if you will. Nothing in the film feels particularly authentic, despite the location shooting in New York, and there's not much sense that anyone is in much real danger. Gloria never gets out of dangerous situations through cunning or wit--it's usually by hiding in a motel or turning to someone else, including her uptight, rich sister (Bonnie Bedelia), an older mob girlfriend she used to emulate (Cathy Moriarty), and even a priest.
Much of the film's narrative is static and lifeless, despite Stone's undeniably lively presence. The long stretches are broken by a car chase here and a shoot-out there, but the violence feels jarring and out-of-place instead of a welcome relief from the melodramatic monotony. Much of the movie has a lightweight, jokey feel about it, then some poor sap gets shot or smashed with a car. It's that kind of jerky approach that never lets you get comfortable with a particular tone. Lumet seems to want a little bit of everything--humor, melodrama, action--but none of it works in tandem. There are individual scenes with merit, but they never fit into a workable whole, and what you're left with is one good character performance, some interesting New York location shots, and a lot of tedium.
©1999 James Kendrick