Abel Ferarra films are just plain brutal. No one who watches “Bad Lieutenant” or “King of New York” escapes those films unscathed. They transcend being mere films — they are powerful, jarring and harrowing experiences. (A naked and screaming Harvey Keitel in “Lieutenant” being one of the lighter moments.) Ferrara’s latest is no exception. He describes “‘R Xmas” as a period piece, taking place over the Christmas holiday in New York in 1993 when David Dinkins was mayor. The focus is a perfect Latino family living the high life in New York. Dad (Lillo Brancato) dotes over his daughter, videotaping her Christmas play at her private school. She is her father’s daughter. The exquisite, blonde wife (the Sporano’s Drea De Matteo) loves her husband passionately and will do anything to please him. They have an amazing apartment, a BMW and are living the yuppie existence, even helping friends and relatives by lending them money. Underneath this perfect picture, there is a dark side. This lifestyle was attained by leading a group of Black drug dealers who work the ghetto. We’re treated to almost 20 minutes of idyllic family life before we see mom and dad drive to an apartment in the ghetto. This is where dad goes to work, cutting and bagging the dope. The drugs are then distributed to loyal dealers who exchange cash for the white powder. The limits of this perfect couple with a cute six year-old daughter are tested when this illegal venture backfires on them. The husband is kidnapped by a crew who has been keeping tabs on their activities. The main hood (Ice T) now demands a ransom of every last dollar from the wife who now realizes the true cost for their sins.
Brutal and realistic are words that will be used over and over to describe “‘R Xmas” but suffice it to say it is “F****d up!” It’s essentially a modern retelling of “A Christmas Carol” with guns, drugs, kidnapping and murder. The heart of the film is the drop dead sexy Drea De Matteo who, as the mother and real head of the family, commands every scene with her blonde locks, leather pants and spike heeled boots. She’s really the one in charge and her assets as a Yuppie crime lord go the distance in the film’s climactic twist. Her performance mirrors that of James Gandolfini in HBO’s television series “The Sopranos.” She questions her husband about her daughter and their life. “She’s going to find out. She already asks what you do for a job. What are you going to do on career day?” The moment results in a laugh, but both realize they must make a choice about continuing in a life of crime or going legit.
In the end, the couple is left cherishing the true things they value most in life – family and each other. The film’s credits close with an ominous title screen that reads “to be continued” suggesting that there may be either a sequel or a coming television series. If the saga continued on TV, it would be an incredibly bold series as easily watchable as the Sopranos. I hope we get to see it.