The Birthday Cake Image

Fernandez makes for a compelling lead, his hair slicked back, revealing a face that simply can’t hide emotion. Kilmer, bless him, survived a tracheotomy in real life; his voice imbues his character with lived-in depth and subliminal menace. It’s good to see the actor doing what he does best. Giannopoulos has managed to assemble a brilliant cast of mob movie greats – Guzmán, Bracco, Sorvino, Vincent Pastore, in addition to pros like McGregor and Fichtner – and simply watching them do their thing is enough to merit a recommendation.

Particularly Fichtner. He ignites the screen with unbridled ferocity. No wonder Giannopoulos chose a scene involving Uncle Ricardo, one of the most powerful ones in the film, to open The Birthday Cake. If it were up to me, William Fichtner would be in every movie, period.

“…a formidable showcase for an emerging director.

The director adds welcome dashes of humor here and there (“We don’t carry no f*****g Kam-boocha!”). Issues of race are touched upon, such as in the intense scene where a young man confronts Gio about his uncle’s lack of respect for different cultures. The result, with its colors, camerawork, and music, gives off a strong Safdie brothers vibe, and for a good reason – Sean Price Williams, the cinematographer, shot Good Time.

Not everything works. McGregor’s narration feels expository and unnecessary. Some scenes are awkward and run a notch too long. Everyone incessantly inquiring about Leo becomes repetitive. There are dialogue lapses that could’ve been fixed with a quick rewrite, such as when a character proclaims, “I ain’t asking you how long it’s been, I’m asking how long since you’ve seen him last.” Huh?

The entire project could’ve used an injection of Safdies’ kinetic energy. As it stands, The Birthday Cake is a formidable showcase for an emerging director. It looks like Giannopoulos has several projects on his slate. Behold the birthday of a new cinematic talent. Now, where’s the cake?

The Birthday Cake (2021)

Directed: Jimmy Giannopoulos

Written: Diomedes Raul Bermudez, Shiloh Fernandez, Jimmy Giannopoulos

Starring: Shiloh Fernandez, Val Kilmer, Ewan McGregor, William Fichtner, Lorraine Bracco, Luis Guzmán, Vincent Pastore, Emory Cohen, Aldis Hodge, Jeremy Allen White, Ashley Benson, David Mazouz, Penn Badgley, John Magaro, etc.

Movie score: 7/10

The Birthday Cake Image

"…may not be a perfect confection, but this cake’s got layers."

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