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The Cotton Club
cast: Richard Gere, Bob Hoskins, Gregory Hines, James Remar, and Diane Lane

director: Francis Ford Coppola

124 minutes (15) 1984 widescreen ratio 16:9
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail
[released 8 September]

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
It's 1928, and Harlem, New York, is home to the hottest club in town - the Cotton Club, where the finest Negro entertainers perform for a rich, hip, and strictly white audience. As prohibition, the Depression, and the new phenomena of the talking movie sweep the nation, the club forms a focal point in the lives of some very different people. A cornet player unwittingly saves the life of a mob boss, and finds himself mired in the politics of the underworld. The boss' mistress manipulates her way to opening her own club, her lifelong dream, but finds herself still a prisoner of her psychotic lover. A black dancer falls for an ambitious singer whose pale skin allows her to 'pass' for white and head for Broadway - but will she choose her career, or love?
   Musicals are suddenly 'in' again, and The Cotton Club is one that's well worth a revisit. With its epic focus, covering many years and at least a dozen major characters, it can feel a little slight: interesting episodes are glossed over in montage, and the more delicate changes in characters and in society are lost. But Coppola is really trying to create an overview of a society in transition, and the music that drove it, and he does this with aplomb. The glamour and the seediness of the underworld and the entertainment industry are beautifully visualised, and the impressive music and dance serve the story well, becoming increasingly integrated into the action towards the end.
   A fine cast including Richard Gere (playing his own cornet solos, would you believe?), Nicolas Cage, Diane Lane, Bob Hoskins, and the late great hoofer Gregory Hines, add depth to the individual stories. Anyone who enjoyed Chicago should warm to this more realistic portrayal of a racially divided America where musical talent or crime were the only way out of the gutter, and so became inextricably linked. It may be nearly 20 years old, but The Cotton Club is an enjoyable, passionate film that still engages you.
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