Buddy Giovinazzo, director of the micro-budget COMBAT SHOCK (1985), makes a startling return to form with this provocative drama of domestic hell. Although NO WAY HOME (1996) jettisons the quirky, subjective style that typified the earlier classic in favour of a more stable, linear narrative, the director remains faithful to his own disturbing vision. Despite the confines of mainstream filmmaking, Giovinazzo’s harsh worldview remains mostly undiluted, and demonstrates perhaps the best form of his career.
After serving six years for the robbery and murder of a shop owner, Joey Larabido (Tim Roth) is released from prison. He is emotionally and physically scarred from his experiences inside, and suffers from communication deficit due to a childhood accident.
Joey goes back to the old family house and asks his brother Tommy (James Russo) if he can stay until he sorts himself out. His wife Lorraine (Deborah Kara Unger) is reluctant to have Joey around, and they grudgingly allow him to live in the dingy basement.
Tommy is in debt to local drug dealer Ralph Scalero, and his nephew Jackie. He can’t afford to pay the mortgage - or even the drugs that he has been fronted - and barely has enough money for food and beer. Lorraine is a stripper, but can’t find regular work. Joey looks for a job but after several unsuccessful applications he decides to clean windows in order to earn a few bucks.
Lorraine is angered at Tommy’s reckless attitude towards his brother who is still on parole. After taking him to a sleazy bar, Joey unwittingly gets into a fight with a bouncer called Gas Tank. Toughened by his time on the prison boxing team, Joey suffers a beating but manages to knock the thug unconscious. Tommy’s drug dealing also places his brother at risk, as the parole officer could visit at any moment.
Lorraine slowly warms to Joey, and she finds it hard to believe that he could have killed anyone. Meanwhile, Tommy’s drug-dealing activities and increasing debts place him in deeper trouble. As Joey drives Lorraine to a job, Jackie and his thugs attack Tommy at home. He manages to pull a gun on the group, however, and forces them to leave.
While packing his suitcases upstairs to leave town, Joey’s parole officer lets himself in. Believing him to be one of Jackie’s men, Tommy kills the man, and hides the body in the basement. Joey and Lorraine arrive home just in time for a visit by Scalero and his thugs. After a brutal showdown, we learn the disturbing truth that binds the two brothers together.
Like its predecessor, NO WAY HOME presents horror as a social phenomenon. Nobody in the film has a halfway decent job. Characters constantly face the threat of poverty, and, like Frankie in COMBAT SHOCK, the protagonists can’t afford to pay for their accommodation. Despite possessing artistic skills, Joey’s brightest prospect seems to be washing windows, and Lorraine spends most of her time waiting for a job to turn up. Tommy, of course, is in massive debt, and is responsible for the bloodshed that marks the film’s climax.
Giovinazzo's films are often labelled as nihilistic. NO WAY HOME proves bleak viewing at times, but its complexity defies a label. Joey himself has scruples: he's a decent bloke, and when he sees some schoolboys snatching books from a girl, he tells them "That's no way to behave". Most people in the film don't behave properly, though, and the conflict between Joey and almost everyone else defines the film's downbeat attitude. It's as if during Joey's six-year incarceration the whole town has rotted away, a possible by-product of economic depression.
Everyone seems to have plenty of leisure time, but with nothing to do and little money to spend. Bored, peripheral characters constantly occupy the edges and the back of the frame, doing spiteful things to pass the time. When Tommy takes his brother to the strip bar, he tells his friends that Joey’s a tough man, having been in prison and fought for the boxing team. When Tommy goes round the back to have sex with a dancer, the group goad bouncer-type, Gas Tank to start a fight with him. Needless to say, it was a thoughtless act and Joey almost pays dearly for it.
Giovinazzo's attitudes are reinforced visually. As with COMBAT SHOCK, NO WAY HOME benefits from the desolate, melancholy settings of Staten Island in Manhattan. The film uses subdued colours and near-empty spaces to depict the jaded, squalid environment, in which most of its inhabitants have fallen to the aforementioned moral bankruptcy.
NO WAY HOME is a subtle, well-characterized piece. Lorraine at first comes across as a heartless bitch and doesn't want Joey to stay under their roof, as she believes he is a murderer. The film addresses this point discreetly. Whenever Joey talks about prison, Lorraine appears edgy and apprehensive - she never says 'Oh my God, how could you kill him?'
Tommy is a more negative character, but is likewise well drawn, adopting an irresponsible attitude toward his brother. He enquires whether Joey was raped in prison and following an evasive, twitchy answer; he takes his brother out to get laid. He then leaves Joey in the bar alone, and has sex with the woman intended for his brother. Although Tommy isn't around to help in the fight with Gas Tank, he returns in time to support Joey who, having laid out his attacker, is heckled by an onlooker with the remark: "Not bad for a retard”. By way of retort, Tommy kicks him in the groin.
Nevertheless, it’s Joey who remains the film’s most interesting character. He is quite slow at times. After Tommy tells him about being married, Joey says to Lorraine: “Congratulations on being married”. They’ve been married for four years. Tommy frequently calls him an “imbecile”. In spite of this, he can be very sharp. Tommy persuades Joey to go out for a ride, which is really a front for a drug deal. When Tommy gets back in the car, Joey knows exactly what’s happening, and says, “C'mon, I’m not an imbecile. I could get eight years for what you’ve got inside that package”.
The major issue for Joey is to stand up for himself and take responsibility for his actions. Although he's a nice guy, in the past he allowed himself to get roped along into Tommy's criminal activities. This in fact led to his prison term. It took six years of his life and some major abuse in prison, and broke his mother's heart. He ended up leaving his fiancée Denise alone, and spurred her to marry an older man whom she doesn't love. This time around Joey has to break free of the past - which includes his brother's criminal activities - and control his own destiny.
Giovinazzo, then, is a highly moral filmmaker. His depiction of evil characters is also indicative of this. In COMBAT SHOCK, the evil Paco and his henchmen chase Frankie, and beat him half to death. But he manages to pull a gun on them. Two men are dispatched quickly, while Paco begs for his life. Likewise in NO WAY HOME. After Jackie's henchmen brutalize Tommy, the scene is repeated when he pulls a gun out. The roles are reversed and he makes one man suck the gun "Like a cock". Jackie - who even looks like Paco - begs for his life... Giovinazzo portrays the nastiest of people and relishes giving them what they deserve.
The violence in NO WAY HOME is very well handled. It is neither slick nor exploitative. Combat is ugly, scrappy, and painful. It happens in short bursts, and the director never makes a big spectacle out of it. Joey isn’t a muscle bound wise cracker who exists solely to give the viewer a cheap, vicarious thrill; he’s a damaged young man trying to survive. The narrative isn’t an excuse for prolonged scenes of violence, as it is with the usual Hollywood actioner. Rather, violence is an organic part of the film’s development. Although the film has a happy epilogue tagged on - a decision that was out of Giovinazzo’s hands - NO WAY HOME is an outstanding little drama that has the ability to disturb, provoke, and captivate.
Before making NO WAY HOME, Buddy Giovinazzo wrote a highly acclaimed short story collection entitled ‘Life is Hot in Cracktown’, produced by Thunder's Mouth Press. More recently, Giovinazzo directed THE UNSCARRED (aka EVERYBODY DIES), made in 1999 and starring James Russo. His 1985 feature COMBAT SHOCK is essential viewing for fans of extreme cinema, and is available from Troma Team Video.
Directed by Buddy Giovinazzo
English Language / UK, USA / 1996 / 103 Minutes / Colour
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
An ILC Prime DVD Release
All Region pal / fullscreen / Dolby Digital mono
NO WAY HOME