Little Odessa (1994) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Little Odessa is a bleak, unsparing look at a merciless hit man and the dysfunctional family that spawned him.


Moira Kelly is seen topless in a sex scene.

The hit man (Tim Roth) has always avoided taking any work in Brooklyn because he grew up there, and his mandatory professional anonymity is lost on that turf. Perhaps that's not the only reason why he has stayed away from his home borough. Although he's repelled by his ethnic Russian-Jewish background, he is also attracted to it. He has an adoring younger brother who seems like a good kid, along with an abusive and bitter father, a mother dying of cancer, and some dangling threads from a former love affair.

He is forced to take a contract in Brooklyn and is gradually drawn back to his childhood home, but when he revives his relationship with his loved ones, his ability to function as a hit man is radically impaired. He becomes vulnerable because he can't keep the detachment necessary for his profession.

DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen 2.35, but letterboxed, not anamorphic

  • storyboard to film comparisons

  • stills gallery

  • commentary from Tim Roth and the director

In a sentence, it plays out like Ingmar Bergman's concept of an urban crime drama. The cold, depressing tone of the film is accentuated by some somber classical and religious music, as well as some stark photography of Brooklyn's Brighton Beach in the wintertime, which looks like a ghost town - empty, dilapidated, covered with snow.

The film was considered a spectacular debut for director James Gray, but in the decade since this film, he has directed only one more project, and that a financially disastrous film with mixed reviews, called The Yards.

The Critics Vote ...

  • No panel consensus: the two reviewers split dramatically, with one thumb up, one down. Ebert 2/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4.

The People Vote ...

  • Budget: two million dollars. Gross: one million


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C. The somber mood is sustained throughout, and the truly exceptional photography is in tune with that mood. But, good Lord, is it grim! And slow! I never got hooked into the narrative, but I enjoyed the wintertime views of Brighton Beach.

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