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Film Analysis | Film Reviews

A Review: ‘Monument Ave/;

1 Nov , 1998  

Written by Kiersten Conner-Sax | Posted by:

The best thing about 'Monument Ave.' is local boy Denis Leary, but is it enough?
Now, I’ll grant you that I don’t spend a whole lot of time in Charlestown. Most of the people I know were drawn to the greater Boston area by some sort of academic magnet; they aren’t "townies." That doesn’t change the fact that Ted Demme’s recent film, "Monument Ave," failed to strike a single chord of familiarity with me. None of the characters reminded me of anyone I’ve ever met in five years in Boston, though they did remind me of any number of movie clichés, from the innocent immigrant cousin to the neighborhood beauty trapped in a relationship with the local gangster but really in love with our hero.

Denis Leary plays that hero, Bobby O’Grady, a middle-aged car thief who lives with his mother. When his cousin Seamus comes over from Dublin, looking for work, Bobby teaches him how to steal cars and shows him a good time: they snort coke with friends in the living room after his mother has gone to sleep. Unfortunately, another cousin, Teddy (Billy Crudup), rats out their gang leader to get out of prison early. The gang leader Jackie (Colm Meaney) then has him shot in a crowded bar, in front of Bobby and a shocked Seamus, which gives Martin Sheen, as a police detective, the opportunity to spout off about Charlestown’s famous code of silence, just in case anyone in the audience hadn’t already seen some version of this movie. Famke Janssen plays Katy the Love Interest, innovatingly torn between Jackie and Bobby.

Leary and Demme made the hysterically funny (though poorly titled) "The Ref" together, and one would think that having the two of them involved with Irish characters named Jack, Bobby, and Teddy would result in at least a few comic scenes. This turns out not to be the case; everyone is very earnest in their misery. While the film tries hard for a sense that the characters can’t escape, I kept wondering why not. Seamus can’t get a legal job because Jackie paid for his plane ticket over; Teddy immediately returns to Charlestown upon leaving prison, even though everyone knows Jackie’s about to kill him; no one bothers to mention why Katy the Love Interest puts up with Jackie, but she seems compelled to do so. Haven’t these people ever heard of a credit card and catching a bus out of town?

This sense of anachronism plagued me throughout the film. Things seem to be set in the present, but that doesn’t quite mesh with the copious amounts of cocaine being snorted, the rampant murders, or the economic stultification that drives everyone into crime. Unfortunately, those details don’t really mesh with each other, either, making it difficult to understand some of the characters’ reactions: by the 1980s, anyone who read the "Herald" would have known what happened to Teddy, so why is his mother so confused?

The film does have a few powerful scenes, particularly when Leary threatens a black student who has wandered into the neighborhood. Different, but equally interesting is a conversation he has with another interloper, a "yuppie chick" who wanders into a neighborhood bar with a friend and discusses how the neighborhood is improving, even though her friend’s car was recently stolen. Unfortunately, most of the film consists of what almost seems to be stock footage of heists and impromptu police interrogations.

The best thing about "Monument Ave." is Leary, who moves away from his trademark angry belligerence to a sad confusion, seeing his neighborhood, and thus his entire life, change. As an actor, he shows a greater range than in the recent past. Even so, the movie could have used a jolt of caustic energy, if not from him, then from someone else. As it is, the supporting cast is more of a distraction, saddled with roles that are plot devices instead of characters. Famke Janssen is stunningly miscast; her model-thin refined beauty is in stark contrast to Leary’s mangy, townie sideburns. More importantly, Colm Meaney struts around in a one-note performance, seemingly happy just to be out of his "Star Trek" uniform. Had he added some shading or charm to his gangster/civic leader role, it would have done much to add tension to the film, and made us better understand the disappearing past that the characters lament.

‘Monument Ave.’ can be purchased at

'Monument Ave.' can be purchased at