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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

On the Ball

City Hall (1996) on IMDb

Plot Overview

Mayor's speechThe speeches in the movie define it. From NYC's Honor­able Mayor John Pappas (Al Pacino) we hear:
Until we can walk abroad and recreate ourselves, until we can stroll along the streets like boule­vards, congre­gate in parks free from fear, our families mingling, our children laughing, our hearts joined, until that day we have no city.

Amen to that. In another oration he quotes Greek statesman Pericles who 2500 years ago said, “All things good of this earth flow into the city because of the city's greatness.” The human resources New York City attracts make for a high population density—it's demo­graphics. When a police stop of a parole violator results in the shooting death of an innocent bystander, the parole office supervisor Larry Schwartz (Richard Schiff,) who signed off on the parole instead of prison where the shooter belonged, lamented that, “These things happen because we are awash in criminals, in half-baked social workers, in a city that doesn't function, in a world that doesn't know right from wrong.” In this high density city, the stray bullet tagged a person; else­where in the nation it would probably have spent itself harmlessly.

Unfortunately it was a black child of six James Bone Jr. (Jaliyl Lynn) who caught the bullet. And that means a lot of unwanted publicity for the Mayor and his city. The shooter had used an illegal weapon, so gun control is not the issue; he had illegal sources. His original crime had been pushing drugs to kids, so after jumping parole he went back to business as usual. The high crime rate area of New York City was black, in this case North Brooklyn. Little surprise he hit a black kid.

The Mayor is managing damage control, and he speaks at the kid's funeral in church saying, “That boy was as pure and innocent as the driven snow.” He was being disin­genuous here as the lead-up to the shooting showed the kid, dressed in rain gear, being difficult with his dad:

Father: “You ain't going out in no playground today.”

Kid: “Please? Daddy.”

Father: “No, it's raining too hard.”

Kid: “Oh, man.”

A minute later the dad with his kid in tow says, “You can move faster than that. Come on.”

snowboundThe brat is dawdling, turning around and looking back, evidently with some other goal in mind. In the process of their march being slowed down, they miss a crossing because of traffic and the delay enables little James to meet his destiny. Of course, he shouldn't have died because of it, but he is not really “as pure and innocent as the driven snow” either. In fact the movie shows us driven snow when a couple characters, the Mayor's right hand man Kevin Calhoun (John Cusack) and concerned counselor Mary­beth Cogan (Bridget Fonda,) get socked in by a snow storm upstate. Driven snow is white all over. We do, how­ever, see a couple examples of innocent little children: the police widow Elaine Santos (Lauren Vélez)'s two Latino-White kids Randy (Ian Quinlan) and Maria (Chloe Morris) who wait patiently both at the hospital and at the cemetery.

Calhoun is a “Louisiana lapsed Catholic.” Part of the reason he's the mayor's deputy rather than pursuing some elected office of his own is up here he's considered an “outsider.” This would necessarily include the blacks having come north to escape the racial attitudes of the South and not wanting the South following them here. The Bible Belt has some well established views on Negroes. Gen. 9:20-23 holds a biblical reference to an incident for which Noah cursed the off­spring Canaan of his son Ham, (Gen. 9:24-27) “And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.”

Said curse was once pretty well understood, especially in the South: Writer Bodie Hodge (134) quotes “Bible Questions and Answers,” The Golden Age (July 24, 1929): p. 702.

Question: Is there anything in the Bible that reveals the origin of the Negro?

Answer: It is generally believed that the curse which Noah pronounced upon Canaan was the origin of the Black race. Certain it is that when Noah said, “Cursed be Canaan, a servant of servants shall he be to his brethren,” he pictured the future of the Colored race.

Applying even such a foundational incident from the distant past to modern times is an idea touched on by Edgar Allen Poe:

the principal source of error in all human investigations, lay in the liability of the under­standing to under-rate or to over-value the importance of an object, through mere misad­measure­ment of its propinquity. “To estimate properly, for example,” he said, “the influence to be exercised on man­kind at large by the thorough diffusion of Democracy, the distance at which the epoch at which such diffusion may possibly be accomplished, should not fail to form an item in the estimate. Yet can you tell me one writer on the subject of government, who has ever thought this particular branch of the subject worthy of discussion at all?” (1249–1250)

The Mayor gets all wound up during his eulogy saying, “Could not some­thing pass from this sweet youth to me? Could he not empower me … Rise up with me, rise up on the wings of this slain angel. We'll rebuild on the soul of this little warrior. We will pick up his standard and raise it high. I am with you, little James. … I am you” [kisses the coffin.] This being an energetic black church the whole congregation echoes his sentiments. And the White speaker is definitely not related to them—except through their common progenitor Noah,— yet he carries forward the standard of an “innocent” soul. But the soul isn't all that innocent. And the progression of the standard of a non-innocent soul is just what attitude the blacks came north to escape from. And here they brought it with them. The film works out this irony in a circle.


Calhoun narrates the movie's intro painting NYC as a lucky place for some and not others. We follow his career as the story progresses. (Prov. 30:24) “There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise.” He started early with a political interest: “Every Louisiana boy catches politics like a disease.” He saved up his money working as a shrimper. An early start, even a piddling one, is a key to success. (Prov. 30:25) “The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer.”

(Prov. 30:26) “The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks.” Next, he got out of his small town of Ferriday, LA for a better location: “After law school I headed to Washington. Leap­frogged back and forth from committee staffer to congressional assistant, until the mayor of New York City came down to testify.” He hitched his wagon to the star mayor.

(Prov. 30:27) “The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands.” Mayor Pappas was a master of menschkeit, the invisible bonds among men out­side of official channels. Calhoun used his opportunity to gain allies. As Huey Long once said, “If you've got a friend, you've got a vote.”

(Prov. 30:28) “The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings' palaces.” That brings us the final point: “New York, it can destroy you or fulfill you depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York unless he's willing to be lucky.” It's that spider in the palace: she can starve or get fat depending on how lucky she is with her web. She takes her hands and spins one, and if that doesn't work, she tries again. There's a line from a Simsion novel: “you know what they say: the harder I work, the luckier I get” (142.) He will try his hand running for office and not give up.

Production Values

” (1996) was directed by Harold Becker. Its script was written by Ken Lipper, Paul Schrader, Nicholas Pileggi, and Bo Gold­man. It stars Al Pacino, John Cusack, Bridget Fonda and Danny Aiello. Pacino's per­for­mance as a con­flicted mayor was first rate. Cusack was also good as his idealistic devotee. The rest of the cast held up their end just fine.

MPAA rated it R for language and some violence, but it could have been worse. The plot leaves much to our imagination to figure out, so either watch it closely or see it again.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

This movie seems to be made for people who like listening to speeches. Not only are they many and rousing, but ordinary conversation tends towards enlighten­ed utterances. Of course, it all goes around in big circles. This would be a good one to see if you need a break from writing your own speech on some topic for which you are inadequately prepared. Check out how the experts do it.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Better than watching TV. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall movie rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture quoted from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Hodge, Bodie. Tower of Babel: The Cultural History of Our Ancestors. Green Forest, AR: New Leaf Pub., 2013. Print.

Poe, Edgar Allen. The Sphinx (1846.) Collected Works of Edgar Allen Poe. Cambridge, Mass: The Belknap Press of Harvard U. Press, 1978. Print.

Simsion, Graeme. The Rosie Project. Copyright © 2013 by Graeme Simsion. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013. Print.