That Bill Shakespeare really gets around.
Men of Respect comes to us disguised as a gangster movie but it is actually a modern-day version of MacBeth. Mike Battaglia (John Turturro) is one of Charlie D’Amico’s (Rod Steiger) top lieutenants but he is upset because D’Amico has announced that his successor will be Bankie Como (Dennis Farina). When Mike stumbles across a fortune teller, he is told that not only will he soon be in charge of the D’Amico crime family but that he will hold the position until the stars fall from the sky and that he will never be harmed by a “man of woman born.” At the instigation of his ambitious wife, Ruthie Battaglia (played by Turturro’s real-life wife, Katherine Borowitz), Mike murders Charlie, Bankie, and everyone else who is standing in his way. Even as D’Amico’s son (Stanley Tucci) starts to recruit soldiers for an all out war, Mike remains confident. Even when one of this soldiers sees a fireworks show and says, “Jeez, it looks like stars from falling from the sky,” Mike remains cocky. When his wife starts to complain that she can not get the blood stains (“the spot”) out of the linen, Mike is not concerned. Why not? “All these guys were born of a woman,” Mike says, “they can’t do shit to me.”
Turning MacBeth (or any of Shakespeare’s tragedies) into a Mafia film is not a bad idea but Men of Respect‘s attempt to translate Shakespeare’s language to 20th century gangster talk leads to some memorably awkward line readings from an otherwise talented cast. By the time Matt Duffy (Peter Boyle) announced, in his Noo Yawk accent, that he was delivered via caesarean section, I could not stop laughing. Even the scenes of gangland mayhem feel like second-rate Scorsese. The idea behind the film is intriguing and there are a lot of recognizable faces in the cast but Men of Respect gets bogged down as both a Shakespearean adaptation and a gangster film.