Friday, May 4, 2001

Urban drama reminds us of life's complexities

Movie: Bobby G. Can't Swim

Posted on Fri, May 4, 2001 at 4:00 AM

****
Our Rating: 4.00

"Bobby G. Can't Swim" is the kind of movie that comes along only occasionally, one so unconventional, gutsy and perfectly executed it takes your breath away. John-Luke Montias' first feature focuses on two days in the life of small-time cocaine dealer Bobby Grace (Montias). Bobby spends his days walking the streets of Hell's Kitchen selling just enough coke to get by. We're introduced to a host of neighborhood characters, including his Puerto Rican prostitute girlfriend (Susan Mitchell) and Popeet, a blind man who pedals trinkets. Despite the bleak circumstance, all the characters are infused with an optimism and humor that enable them to carry on.

When a yuppie from out of town approaches Bobby, the street player sees it as his chance to make some real money. But the deal goes awry and the second half of the film explodes with energy and suspense as Bobby desperately tries to untangle himself. All the subtle clues Montias plants in the first hour of his airtight, street-smart script expertly play out as Bobby gets farther in over his head. The dealer's increasing desperation is expertly doubled by George Gibson's hand-held camera work that makes you feel almost every crack in the New York sidewalks. And Montias portrays Bobby with a perfect mix of understated recklessness and urban savvy.

"Bobby G." is an edgy urban drama with a subtle heart that refuses to resort to good-guy-vs.-bad-guy simplicity. Like all good art, "Bobby G." reminds us that life is full of complexities and paradoxes, and that redemption can be as hard to find as that one big score.

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