The Public Eye

(Howard Franklin, USA, 1992)


Howard Franklin was once a filmmaker to watch. His debut Quick Change (1990), co-directed with actor Bill Murray, is a comic gem worth discovering. In The Public Eye, Franklin takes on a dramatic subject: the life of hard-bitten photojournalist Weegee (real name Arthur Fellig), fictionalised as Bernzini and incarnated with panache by Joe Pesci.

The unsavoury details of this freelance profession – such as arranging corpses for a better shot, then selling the image for three bucks – are vividly etched.

Strongly reminiscent of Wim Wenders' Hammett (1983), the story sets up Bernzini as an artist-outsider who is ineluctably drawn into the world he records through his camera. The agent of this complicity is a femme (Barbara Hershey) who may or may not be fatale.

The themes of the piece – trust, intimacy, respect – are neatly expressed by the moves of the story and the exchanges between the characters.

But everything in the film, from acting to set design, is just too calm and controlled – and, like in so many murder thrillers on screen, necessary plot exposition slows the rhythm down to a snail's pace.

© Adrian Martin December 1993

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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