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good will towards none

By doug levy
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 11, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

courtesy of Lion1s Gate Entertainment Denis Leary (right) stars as Bobby O'Grady, a small-time thief from a Boston "townie" neighborhood in "Monument Ave." The film opened last Friday at the Loft Cinema.

"Monument Ave." is the antidote to "Good Will Hunting."

While both movies take place in Boston "townie" neighborhoods, the grim, dark picture of desperation painted by "Monument Ave." rings true more than the glorified idealism of "Good Will."

The similarities are surface factors only: the now-ubiquitous South-Boston accent and dialect, the petty crime, the poverty, the cynical anti-hero at the center of it all.

Denis Leary, as Bobby O'Grady, however, is a far cry from ol' Will Hunting.

O'Grady is a small time car thief, born and raised in an Irish community set off from the main part of the city by water on three sides. It's on "the other side of the Square," as O'Grady explains to a "yuppie" woman.

The references to yuppies and "Harvard genuises" and the like all abound here, too, but the starker, more harsh aspects of this kind of life are far from suppressed. The unabashed racism and prejudice within the community is exposed in numerous scenes, but most frighteningly in a coked-up escapade where O'Grady and his pals accost a black man on the street.

But O'Grady isn't a bad guy. He's just fed up with what's going on around him. Jackie O'Shea, played by Ireland's favorite actor, Colm Meany, runs the neighborhood. All the deals go through him, and if anyone tries to rat him out, execution is swift.

Good Will Hunting would have taken a bullet a long time ago in this world.

Everything starts to go bad when Bobby's cousin makes the hit list for squealing and Martin Sheen, as everyone's least favorite cop, appears back on the scene. No one's talking, of course - they were all conveniently in the bathroom during the murder.

But the fact that another of Bobby's cousins is in town changes the score a bit. This guy's an innocent, basically, fresh off the plane from Dublin, and it's all a bit much for him to handle.

Throw in the fact that Bobby's been doing Jackie's girlfriend (Famke Janssen) on the side, and it's all a mess that's about to explode.

Denis Leary's performance in "Monument Ave." is truly remarkable - a harsh divergence from his usual biting, comic persona. In fact, the one scene that seems to be a bit out of place in the film is where Bobby, his cousin and their pal Mouse sit around doing coke and engaging in deliriously ridiculous conversation, which interprets a bit of Leary's on-stage comedy routine into the mix. While the scene is genuinely funny, it's the one point where we become aware of Denis Leary the comedian, up there on the screen, as opposed to Bobby O'Grady, the tortured and trapped soul.

Humor is worked well into the script in other parts, masterfully interwoven with and contrasted against violence and betrayal. A funny anecdote or a jovial gathering ends in death. For every laugh, however forced, there is a tear, too often held back by necessity and the overwhelming endlessness of it all.

Of course, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were always quick to point out that "Good Will Hunting" is, for the most part, a fairy tale, but one gets the impression that they were referring more to the title character than the setting itself. "Monument Ave." is a good start towards revealing just how much of a fairy tale it really was.