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Albino Alligator

Kevin Spacey

Actor Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects, Seven) turns his hand to directing with Albino Alligator. Part crime movie and part hostage drama, the film is a little uneven in tone but scores with some good performances from a very strong cast. Matt Dillon and Gary Sinise play two brothers who head an inept team of thieves operating in New Orleans. Having set off the alarm while trying to execute the perfect robbery, the gang speed through a firearms sting, accidentally causing the death of three Federal agents and getting themselves mistaken for the gun runner. Blightely unaware of the havoc in their wake, they take shelter in a basement bar, using the five occupants as hostages when an army of cops surround the joint.

The jokey tone of these familiar crime capers gives way to much more serious dramatics when the bumbling yet violent criminals realise the gravity of their predicament. Tension mounts as gang members disagree about tactics and their desperate victims begin to manoeuvre in order to ensure their survival. The barman (M. Emmet Walsh) pulls a gun and is killed, while the barmaid (Faye Dunaway) tries to influence Dillon in order to protect a young customer who may become the next victim. Screenwriter Christian Forte says that he wanted to examine moral and philosophical issues arising from the question of what people are willing to sacrifice in order to survive. The title refers to a story about how the albino alligator is sacrificed as bait by its companions because it’s easy death allows them to take their rivals by surprise. The characters in the film face a similar situation, with family ties adding to the dilemmas facing both criminals and victims.

While competent enough at handling the action sequences, director Spacey is clearly more comfortable working with his cast. The restricted setting and tense situation imbue the film with an air of claustrophobic theatricality and makes considerable demands on the actors. They prove equal to the challenge, and Faye Dunaway’s outstanding performance provides reason enough to see Albino Alligator.

U.S.A./France, 1996.
97 mins.

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