1993 proved to be a great year in film. One movie, however, fell under the radar despite the cinematic excellence and livelihood it exemplified. That film is the Chazz Palminteri and Robert De Niro collaborative effort, “A Bronx Tale.”
Within “A Bronx Tale,” there is just that.
A series of stories and winding narratives that all circle back to the same thing the movie preached as soon as the opening credits and songs started to roll onto the screen. This is a film that exudes the high confidences of youth, mob lifestyle and the vices and pains that come from those two very different ways of life.
“A Bronx Tale” follows the childhood and teenage years of Cologero, the son of a respectable bus driver, Lorenzo (De Niro), in a 60s Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx.
The film opens with old doo-wop quartet music from the time period. At first, Cologero is no different from the other kids in the neighborhood. He comes from a working class family and raises hell with his friends, annoying vendors, imitating the local gangsters and idealizing their leader, Sonny (Palminteri). Sprinkled in are also the struggles and strife the 60s saw with Cologero’s friends holding contempt for African Americans — a contempt Cologero does not share.
All of this is upended, however, when Cologero witnessed his idol Sonny kill a man in the streets and the police call on him to inquire as to what he saw. Cologero responds that he saw nothing, immediately gaining the attention of Sonny — attention Cologero’s father would rather have his son live without.
From there on out, Sonny takes Cologero under his wing and teaches him about the truths of the streets and the baser elements of human interaction and intent. But for all of this education, Sonny does not want to mold Cologero to be like him. Rather, he wants to educate the boy on how the world really works so he doesn’t have to work as a bus driver like his father or as a gangster like him.
While these lessons are meant to sway Cologero from the lifestyle Sonny lives, they instead further endear Sonny and his lifestyle to Cologero. Because of this, Cologero’s father Lorenzo confronts Sonny and tells him to stay away from his son. A request Sonny respects but refuses to accept, as Sonny has now grown to see Cologero as the only person that values him for his humanity and not for his position of power within the Mafia.
The movie then jumps forward a few years. Cologero is now 17 and in the midst of young-adulthood. His friends still harbor racist feelings while Cologero silently does not, and Sonny still serves as Cologero’s mentor and second father figure. Only now, Sonny is a boss, and Cologero is starting to enter the gangster lifestyle with his hoodlum friends — an exploration Sonny and his father do not approve of.
While attempting to emulate Sonny through his very own ‘social club’ and bully persona at school, Cologero has a moment of love at first sight. Her name is Jane, but there’s an issue. She’s African American, and if his friends find out Cologero may find himself or the girl he loves killed by his sophomoric and volatile friends. And so Cologero discretely asks out Jane. She accepts and prompts Cologero to seek out the advice of his father Lorenzo, as well as his mentor Sonny.
While debating how to handle his precarious situation and affections for Jane, Cologero spends time with his friends at their social club.
One afternoon, a group of pre-teen African American boys ride by on their bicycles. Enraged by this, Cologero’s friends brutally attack the boys. Cologero intervenes, breaking up the violence and trying his best to end the conflict. He tells his friends to stop because the police will be coming soon. They stop.
Throughout the film, Cologero shows a kindhearted nature and a tendency to avoid conflict and violence whenever it has any real threat behind it. No clearer example of this is shown in the film than when bikers enter Sonny’s bar and wreak havoc in the establishment, to which Sonny politely responds by asking them to leave. When they do not, Sonny locks the door, says “now you’s can’t leave” and proceeds to have his men enter the room and beat the bikers senselessly. All the while Cologero cowers in the fray of the fighting and the silky-smooth song “Nights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues plays.
Even though Cologero does not ever directly hurt anyone, his part in being a member of groups that incite and promote violence has him punished by association. This is seen when Cologero, having been loaned Sonny’s car for his date with Jane, goes to pick up Jane and is confronted by her and one of the boys beaten earlier by Cologero’s friends. As it happens, he is her brother, and he claims that Cologero is one of the people that beat him up. He denies this, but Jane is convinced and leaves with her brother.
Shaken, Cologero takes the car back to Sonny and leaves Sonny’s bar abruptly. Minutes later, Sonny and his men stop Cologero and accuse him of placing a bomb in Sonny’s car. Sonny treats Cologero as he does everyone else, slapping Cologero. Cologero cries and denies the accusation — he is crestfallen that his idol would think this of him. Realizing his error, Sonny apologizes to Cologero.
Completely heart broken, Cologero gets in a car with his friends. The car is filled with unlit Molotov cocktails with the target being an African American-owned store they intend to destroy. Before anything comes of this, Sonny has his car intercept the boys and extracts Cologero. Cologero’s friends drive on to their destination without him. All the while Sony tells Cologero not to waste his life, and he warns Cologero there is no trust or love in a mobster’s life. Cologero says he’s sorry for Sonny and realizes he doesn’t want that to be like him anymore. Cologero exits the car and runs to find Jane in the street. She explains that her brother admitted to lying to her, and she passionately embraces Cologero; they kiss.
Cologero then learns his friends were killed trying to destroy the store. Grateful towards Sonny, he runs to the bar to tell Sonny what he means to him. However, the bar is crowded and Cologero can only callout to Sonny who sees him and smiles, calling him over.
Unfortunately, a gunman kills Sonny before Cologero can tell him. It is later revealed the gunman is the son of the man Sonny killed at the beginning of the film.
At the funeral, Cologero sees exactly what Sonny told him there was at mob funerals: relationships being made and businesses grown. The dead having no compassion shown toward them by anyone. But Cologero cares, and he tells Sonny so as he stands over his body.
He tells him he was right about so many things in life, but wrong about such a big part of everything: no matter what you think, someone always cares. Cologero exits the funeral with Lorenzo, his father having attended to pay his respects and acknowledge the love Sonny had for his son. Doo-wop music again plays in the night air, Cologero and his father walk into the clear Bronx night, completing what was just one of a million tales told in the Bronx.
Grant Mitchell is a junior majoring in public relations. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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