I decided to take a looky-loo at Ted Demme's Monument Avenue for a couple different reasons. I unconditionally love Denis Leary, in comedy, in drama, in sickness (the dude smokes a lot), in health, til one more crappy Spider Man movie do us part. The man is just a tornado of stinging energy and machismo that you just don't see in cinema much these days. He paves his body of work with snappy scenarios of hilarity derived from his standup work, and then once in a while will floor me with a focused, expertly delivered dramatic scene brimming with gravitas and emotion, feeling earned and special because we don't get to see that from him all too often. I had also just connived US Netflix selection again and it popped up in my queue, catching my eye, being one I've always meant to watch but never got around to it. Director Ted Demme has made one of my favourite films ever, The Ref also with Leary. I just really enjoy seedy Boston set crime films, whether they're bombastic (The Departed), restrained (Mystic River) or cartoonish (The Boondocks Saints). Monument Avenue reigns things way, way in for an intimate look at a few close friends from Southie who have grown up together in the neighbourhood. Bobby O Grady (Leary) is a deadbeat small time car thief whose life is headed straight for the dumps, along with longtime chum Mouse (Ian Hart, Professor Quirrell from Harry Potter!!) and young cousin Seamus (Jason Berry), visiting from Dublin and putting himself in real danger of falling into their inescapable life style. The opening scenes of them simply hanging out, doing coke and shooting the breeze have a scary realism with both dialogue and performance, and I was reminded uncomfortably of many nights in my own life that followed a similar pattern. The three of them are forced to contend with two faced, especially nasty crime boss Jackie O Hara (Colm Meaney, a portrait of seething evil) who blatantly murders a recently paroled underling (Billy Crudup, uncharacteristically manic) in a crowded bar room. Now, in the badder areas of Boston there is an unspoken code among the locals that you don't divulge anything to the police, even if you witness a crime dead cold, and even if you'd love to see the perpetrator get caught. It's a stupid set of principles that I disagree with, as does Detective Hanlon (Martin Sheen), a fired up investigator who fumes at the Irish way of shunning the law and avidly seeks the truth. Sheen makes compelling work of a standard role, a firecracker performance that gives Leary a run for his money, especially in a third act exchange of burning dialogue that is a career highlight for both. This is one of the most 'anti crime' crime films I've ever seen, not shrouding its feelings on the futility of such a life and the bloody dead ends and broken lives it spawns for a moment. Leary is quietly ferocious at times and passionately ballistic in others, and there's barely a comedic note in his angry, confused, all together brilliant performance. It's surprising to see Dutch girl Famke Janssen as a hard bitten Southie girl, but she gives it her all as the gang boss's girl who is clearly in love with Leary. Luminous Jeanne Tripplehorn has a nice cameo as a 'yuppie girl', and the great Noah Emmerich is also on fire as another member of Leary's little posse. Director Demme occasionally intercuts candid photos, sans music, from happier times in the character's youthful days, showing them as innocent canvases that the town itself and their bad decisions haven't had a chance to stain yet. It's a hard hitting tactic that drives home the films lament on the tragedy of a life dedicated to crime and degeneracy. A surprisingly little seen crime drama, but one with a point that needs to be made and a refreshing lack of any glorification of 'the life'. Highly recommended.