New York in the 1940s. Leon “Bernzy” Bernstein (Joe Pesci) is nearly a legend in the city, a freelance news photographer with a police radio in his car and a darkroom in his trunk. Bernzy is a solitary man who lives for his work, the type who has many acquaintances but few friends. He gets the pictures that no one else can get but his dream of seeing a book published of his photographs seems to be unattainable. As more than one snobbish publisher tells him, tabloid photographs are not art.
Bernzy is invited to a meeting with Kay Levitz (Barbara Hershey). Kay is the widow of one of Bernzy’s few friends. She has inherited a nightclub but now a mysterious man is claiming to be a former partner of her husband and says that he owns half of the club. She asks Bernzy to discover who the man is. Bernzy agrees and soon finds himself a suspect in a murder. Even as Bernzy tries to clear his name, he never stop looking for the perfect shot.
Joe Pesci made this neo noir shortly after winning an Oscar for Goodfellas. The Public Eye was an attempt to elevate Pesci from being a character actor to a leading man. It may not have accomplished that but it is still one of the better neo noirs of the 90s. Howard Franklin does such a good job of recreating the style of film noir that the movie seems like it’s in black-and-white even though it’s in color and Barbara Hershey is perfectly cast as a sultry femme fatale. The tough but eccentric Bernzy turns out to be a perfect role for Joe Pesci, who gives one of his best performances. This overlooked film is one to watch for.