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Asphalt City movie review & film summary (2024)

Director Sauvaire likes to chronicle extreme life situations, and his style of sound and vision overload served him reasonably well in the boxing-in-a-Thai-prison punchfest “A Prayer Before Dawn” in 2018. That movie had an unusual narrative that kept it unusually buoyant. The story here is more familiar.

You know the deal. You become a big-city paramedic to help people. But the people themselves are a nightmare! Not particularly into self-care, often living in squalor, they don’t speak the language, and they don’t even say thank you after you save their lives! It can get to be a real grind. Ollie doesn’t help his own existential outlook by rooming in Chinatown with a couple of ancients, in order to save money while he studies for med school. He’s also in an intense and arguably odd sexual relationship with a single mother with whom he doesn’t communicate effectively, to say the least.

A bigoted white male urbanite watching this movie might get a particular message—and it’s possible this isn’t intentional, but still—from its first half hour of emergency sequences. That message being, every ethnic group he finds frightening, he is correct in finding frightening. Hyped up Black kids with guns! Chunky shirtless Hispanic guys with gallons of ink on them messing around with pit bulls—the mean kind, not the ones they’re always telling you are safe for adoption! Heroin-addicted maybe-Filipino women spitting obscene invective for minutes on end in the back of an ambulance! It really IS a jungle out there! Holy moly!

If Sheridan’s Ollie has a hard time keeping his head above water, his good shift partner, the older, grizzled Rutovsky—Rut for short—seems to have things relatively figured out, at least at first. Played with commendable understatement by Sean Penn, Rut is not a total cynic after years on the force. He knows the moves, and has a pronounced sense of pragmatism, which leads him into very dark moral waters as the movie goes on. (Rut has an estranged partner played by Katherine Waterson, whose Expression of Disapproval shows her as a true chip off the old block, that is, her father Sam.) Michael Pitt, beefed up and puffy-faced and coming on like he wants to be in the next “Boondock Saints” movie, plays bad shift partner Lafontaine, and he has the worst lines in the movie: “I don’t know if I believe in Heaven but I believe in Hell,” hoo boy, and, in case you weren’t paying attention to that one, “I ain’t Jesus, I’ll tell you that.” On the other hand, Mike Tyson, as Ollie’s gruff station chief, is so credible that the phrase “stunt casting” barely has a chance to form in one’s head before completely dissipating.

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