(LLL, VVV, SS, N, A/D, Ab, M) At least 200 obscenities & 15 profanities; violence; fornication & graphic sex (between husband & wife); alcohol abuse; upper female nudity; and, arson because of graft (setting fire to apartment buildings to make way for new office complex and shopping mall (2 people, mother & baby, die in the fire)).
CITY OF HOPE is a drama about the hopes and despairs of a working class family. It is also a study of an idealistic councilman who grapples with big-city moral issues. Due to mediocre acting and hazy, confused plot, the film fails from lack of a clear focus.
Set in a fictional New Jersey city, CITY OF HOPE presents a grim picture of corruption, greed and despair from the mayor’s office down to the lowest politician. The film paints a disturbing, dark view of community dynamics in which “everybody’s a politician,” as one policeman says, and everyone is working a deal. CITY OF HOPE avoids complete cynicism, however, by allowing for the strength of individual will in maintaining some integrity.
Two characters, who move in opposite directions, carry the thrust of the film: Nick (Vincent Spano) is the disillusioned son of a well-connected builder and wants out of the system, while Wynn (Joe Morton), a young, black city councilman with a conscience, desires to work within the system.
When quixotic Nick quits his no-work job at his dad’s construction company, he hits the streets and gets involved in a robbery to pay off gambling debts. He also begins a romance with Angela, a high-school classmate. In the process, he incurs her ex-husband’s wrath.
Wynn, on the other hand, attempts to rally the people in his ward to show the council they care about civic issues, but certain inflammatory individuals at the African-American Center deride him as pandering to the white man.
Then a racial crisis erupts when two black kids attack a white college teacher and tell the police that the professor had made homosexual advances to them. Wynn knows they’re lying but must find a course that serves both his community and his conscience.
Meanwhile, Nick’s father is caught up in a city scheme to put a profitable development in place of a slum apartment he owns. Unable to get the tenants out, they resort to arson, with tragic results.
Each of these plots, unfortunately, fails to define good or evil clearly. In fact, several subplots spin off from these basic plots adding to the busyness of CITY OF HOPE and contributing to its overall confusion and lack of clear definition as to its central message.
Film’s acting is so-so, not helped by the camera’s restlessness and lack of focus. Two episodes that concentrate on relationship, however, and belie this lack of focus are: Nick’s honest and charming courtship with Angela, and the powerful, ironic closing scene with Nick and his father in which a deranged man is the only person who hears their cries for help.
Also detracting from the film are the numerous obscenities and profanities; the fairly graphic sex scenes (between Wynn and his wife); the implied fornication between Nick and Angela; the violence, often between Nick and his numerous “enemies”; and, the anti-Christian sentiment which Nick’s sister expresses when she tells him that their “mom is in church praying for you, so don’t turn her into a religious fanatic.” How tragic to consider prayer in this light when Jesus said “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1).
To some extent, CITY OF HOPE finds redemption in the final reconciliation scene between Nick and his father who confesses, “All my life I thought I was in control, but now I realize my life’s a mess.” Sadly, his confession comes as Nick is dying, so the film proves once again that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23)–a high price to pay indeed.