So far, so fall-and-rise-of-Italian-American-mob-guy. But prison has changed Frank. Well, slightly. He now hangs out as much with the city’s prime legal movers – principally advocate Abraham Cott (Jay Julien) and sexy counsellor Jennifer (Janet Julian) – as he does with the pimps, pushers, whores and homies who constitute his usual retinue. And with a hospital in his old stamping ground due to close because of municipal budget reductions, he takes an uncharacteristic interest in philanthropy. But his do-gooding (financed by his not-so-do-gooding) is threatened by the tenacity of hard-bitten cop Roy Bishop (Victor Argo). Frustrated by the ministrations of Frank’s legal eagles, Roy’s number two – the righteously indignant and dangerously unpredictably Dennis Gilley (David Caruso) – posits a drastic plan of action and due process be damned.
Likewise, the internal dynamic of Roy’s team comes across as shoehorned by the requirements of the script, instead of developing naturally. A terrific Irish wedding scene gives us our only real glance of who these guys are off-duty, after which they’re relegated to sparkplugs for an often disjointed narrative. The wedding scene is one of a cluster of great individual moments – it rates alongside a white-knuckle car chase/shoot-out by night, a risky hit at a cop funeral and Frank’s violent intrusion on Artie’s poker game – that add up to a film that’s never less than watchable despite its flaws. (The less said about the horribly staged Chinatown gundown, however, the better.)
And yet … and yet …
Ferrara scores an incredibly effective point in the juxtaposition of Frank’s public façade – all swanky restaurants and high-class acquaintances and artsy milieus – with the reality of the criminal underworld: decrepit crack-houses, well-appointed but anonymous hotel rooms, edgy associates and glaze-eyed hookers. Drastically different aesthetics, but Ferrara shoots both as commentaries on lifestyle porn. If, in the final analysis, ‘King of New York’ can be said to have a theme, it’s about the reduction of success to surface sheen and death to designer ennui.