Nighttime, some abandoned yard, and a bloody guy in a bin getting beaten with a baseball bat before being set ablaze. What a great way to set the tone for "Hell's Kitchen" because what follows is one very cool piece of indie filmmaking. It's New York, 1978, and it's a great time to be a gangster. At least that's what it says as the film begins; I could never get past most of the music from the period, in particular, disco. In the movie, a trio of gangsters awaits the arrival of an intermediary - another gangster from a different borough. Some small talk ensues, letting us know that these guys have worked together for a while, who they are, and where they are. When you consider the first scene in this short film, you just know these guys mean business.
You see, reader, things haven't been going well lately, and the boss wants to know what and why. Disappearances, missing shipments, the usual things that ruffle the feathers of most gangsters - and the usual suspects are always front and center - another boss, another crew. With the arrival of the representative from Brooklyn, the expected pleasantries are observed before the real questions begin. Especially for enforcer Johnny, getting answers is not a question of if, only when. Sometimes, however, things are not quite what they appear to be - but one way or another, someone will be leaving this church in a bag. Welcome to Hell's Kitchen 1978, where it's a great time to be a gangster.
Let me put it out on the table all at once; the story here is pretty unoriginal, even stereotypical. A group of mob inspired gangsters waiting to potentially lay the smackdown on another gangster from a different gang/family. The dialog and actions of these individuals are what you expect them to be - after watching years of mafia inspired movies. And yet it's all handled so damn well that it's incredibly entertaining to watch. Perhaps it's the familiarity itself that makes "Hell's Kitchen" so fun to watch, like your favorite comfort food on a gloomy day. Who needs a new spin on something when keeping things similar is like falling back into your own, familiar, comfy couch for a few minutes. I write that the story and characters are cliches for sure, and I mean that as a compliment. It removes the time it takes to world-build and instantly lets us know exactly what's up - a smart move for a film that is very short in length. The recent inclusion of an introductory scene works well as a way to show these guys mean business, and the brutality of a criminal organization that is frequently romanticized.
Did I mention that this flick also looks and sounds fantastic? Well, reader, it does - and I'm not just talking about the technical aspects either. Steve Young's film has some excellent performances that drive along the story quite nicely. From the gesturing and movements, straight through to the anecdotal stories narrated from the characters. This film oozes experience and natural talent - all rolled together into one fast-paced narrative.
I wrote the words fast-paced above, and to be honest? Those two words sum up this film in a lot of ways. What makes those words interesting is that this isn't really a violent film save the first segment, and it mainly takes place in one big room. "Hell's Kitchen" is mainly dialog-driven, so writing that it's fast-paced is a huge compliment. A dialog-driven movie that races across your screen is an amazing feat - one that can only be accomplished with an excellent cast and some really talented people behind the lens. Even with the extra few minutes added to the start, my one complaint is still that I wish this short were longer. But the new scene does remedy that problem a little, even if only to add context. Would I recommend this film? Damn right I would - it was a blast to watch, and in the end, that's all that really matters.