It would seem that, based on recent titles, I was in some kind of cinematic rut. Yesterday’s eminently forgettable Sorcerer (1977), by name alone, would not suggest the kind of movie a practicing Catholic like myself would enjoy. Luckily, it was bad for reasons other than magic, of which there was none. Of any kind. Whatsoever. Today’s film has another sobriquet, Suicide Kings (1997), seemingly dealing with a subject upon which the Church has long frowned. And yet, like the previous film, there is no actual ending of lives at the hands of the characters themselves. And I remember this movie a bit more, too, because at my first job as a bagger, and then a clerk, for the old Albertson’s grocery chain, one of my many jobs was handling rentals of the small movie collection the store inexplicably maintained. I never watched it then, but I recall seeing it on the shelves all the time. Here is to catching up on the late 1990s.
Charlie Barret (Christopher Walken), formerly crime boss Carlo Bartolucci, enjoys a pampered life of semi-retirement as Suicide Kings begins. He walks into a fine dining establishment and he has a booth permanently reserved for him. This night, though, a group of young men are sitting there when he arrives. Instead of rudely demanding that they vacate his spot, he sits down to have a drink with them and they begin commiserating. Their dialog grows friendlier, and soon Charlie is feeling young and invigorated and accepts an invitation to come along with them to another spot in town. It is while they are driving to this next destination that the young men hatch their plan to kidnap Charlie. After a rough car ride where they had trouble sedating the former mafioso, Charlie comes to in the plush surroundings of the mansion of Ira Reder (Johnny Galecki), one of their friends though not initially part of the plot. Ira walks in on them surrounding Charlie, who had been duct taped to a chair, had a finger removed, and is being kept mostly coherent with an intravenous (IV) drip. As it turns out, one of the cabal’s, Avery Chasten’s (Henry Thomas) sister Elise (Laura Harris), had been kidnapped as well. They believe that Charlie, given his past and current riches, can help track down those responsible and pay the ransom for her freedom. Despite the fact that he is being held captive and missing a digit, Charlie agrees to help them. The first call he makes is to his lawyer, Marty (Cliff De Young), who then contacts Charlie’s bodyguard and driver Lono Veccio (Denis Leary). Between the two of them, it does not take them long to figure out who it was that nabbed Elise. While their investigations take place, Charlie begins to get inside the minds of each of his kidnappers. Each of them have their own idiosyncrasies that I will not get into at the moment. What I will say is that the more Charlie pushes, the more he gets to the bottom of what is really going on. Doing so allows us to get to the bottom of what is really going on with these five young men. As it turns out, one of them, Max Minot (Sean Patrick Flanery), is in love with Elise. Her brother, knowing that their parents disapprove of them being together, had arranged the kidnapping as a way of getting Max and Elise away from the Chasten family. After a few more calls, Charlie agrees to front the money for her release, is turned loose himself, and taken to the hospital. Yet, when he and Lono call on the two that had supposedly taken Elise in order to get back their money, they discover that the whole thing had actually been set up by Elise. They then track down Elise and Max living a luxurious life on a boat (which he had foolishly described to Charlie while the crime boss was a hostage), apparently shoot them both, and retrieve their millions.
I say “apparently” because Suicide Kings‘ credits start rolling as Charlie and Lono point guns at Max and Elise. The camera pans away, you hear gun shots, but you do not actually see dead bodies. So, who knows? Maybe Charlie’s, er, big heart caused him to allow the love birds to live? If so, it would make it a slightly more palatable movie, violence and a great deal of swearing aside. What Elise did, albeit in an awful and criminal way, was for love, and I am a sucker for such stories. However, the character I would like to talk most about in a Catholic sense is Charlie. At first he claims that he no longer led a life of crime, but it is pretty obvious that he still has a hand in the shadier side of the law and is not above perpetrating violence to achieve his ends. Given the way he treats the staff at the restaurant at the beginning and his palling around with the younger men even after they kidnap him, you want to believe him when he tells them early on that if they let him go all will be forgotten. However, he also says one key line that (spoilers, though late warning) ruins the whole plot when you hear it and understand it: everyone lies. Of course, we all have done it at some point. I remember vividly as a little kid doing so in order to avoid punishment. However, as we grow up we understand more fully the consequences of such actions. Faith completes that maturation process. We can tell all the untruths we like to others, but God will always know the heart of the matter. And think of the damage such actions do. As a sin, without repentance they separate us from God. As something we do to others, particularly when they are revealed they wound relationships and lead to some devastating consequences. There are few things worse than having a liar revealed to us, especially when it is someone to whom we are close. This neatly describes the film. First we believe that it is Avery, but then Max and Elise, but in either case it tears apart what had seemingly been a close knit group and leads to a few murders. Outcomes like this are why the Bible emphasizes the value of telling the truth at all times.
Thus, in a sense, Suicide Kings works as a cautionary tale against telling lies. Still, there is a lot of material in it that I could have done without. Foul language and violence aside, there is a scene that takes place in a strip club that, because I turn away from the screen at such moments, means that I am not able to properly assess part of I am watching. Hence, I do not necessarily recommend the movie. If you want a better film about the benefits of being upright and truthful, watch Kingdom of Heaven (2005). In it, the main character takes a vow of honesty, even to the point of death. While that may seem like an extreme position to take to our modern sensibilities, imagine if we all tried to at least aspire to something close to that ideal? What a world that would be.