In the midst of a heat wave in 1977, New York City became the hunting grounds of the serial killer known as the Son Of Sam. Son Of Sam would turn out to be David Berkowitz, the original disgruntled postal worker, but for a time, thanks in part to constant media coverage, an air of near-paranoia settled over the city, one which found women staying home or cutting their hair and wearing wigs so as not to fit the pattern of Berkowitz's victims. Spike Lee uses this unease as the backdrop for Summer Of Sam, which focuses, for the most part, on the impact Berkowitz's killing spree has on one Italian-American neighborhood. Inadvertently caught up in the furor is John Leguizamo, a Bronx hairdresser who, though he clearly loves his wife (Mira Sorvino), can't seem to stop his philandering ways or integrate his taste for sexual adventure into his marriage. Leguizamo's escalating marital crisis coincides with the return to his neighborhood of old friend Adrien Brody, an obsessive fan of The Who involved in the burgeoning New York punk scene. Brody's spiky hair and decidedly un-Italian affectations (and rumors of other activities) attract the disdain of his neighbors, their suspicions eventually coinciding with their fears of the killer. Some judicious trimming might have improved it, but Summer Of Sam is Lee at his best, a virtuoso piece of filmmaking that's stylish, substantial, and rich in detail. Lee, as in Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights and Ang Lee's The Ice Storm, steeps his film in the knowledge that the past really is another country, with its own laws and now-lost possibilities. Strengthening it further is Summer Of Sam's willingness to incorporate elements of black comedy (as in a bizarre, frightening cameo by John Turturro that captures the insanity of the situation more than a more literal approach to filmmaking could) and believable performances by the entire cast, especially Leguizamo, Sorvino, and Brody. After the near-self-parody of He Got Game, Lee seemed to have drifted away from what made him an interesting filmmaker to begin with. The thrillingly mature and complex Summer Of Sam pretty decisively reverses the trend.
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