City of Hope

(John Sayles, USA, 1991)


Writer-director John Sayles is a sentimental favourite among many film buffs, for his certified maverick status within the American system, and for his savvy comments on the filmmaking process. But his actual work is not always so inspiring or accomplished.

City of Hope is one of Sayles’ weakest efforts – full of great, tough, noble ideas, but singularly schematic and colourless in its execution. Not even the director’s beloved regular actors, like Joe Morton and Vincent Spano, can bring this one to life.

The film presents a busy cross-section of society in a manner reminiscent of Robert Altman. Characters from all walks, of all colours and creeds, go about the daily business of survival: hustling, fighting, going under, making compromises and deals.

Every person’s moment of choice effects not only their own destiny but, sometimes inadvertently, someone else’s too.

Sayles tries to sketch a map of politics as it is lived on both micro and macro levels. But his diagram is inert, schematic and mechanical.

MORE Sayles: Limbo, Passion Fish, Sunshine State

© Adrian Martin October 1993

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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