In Frank D’Angelo’s The Red Maple Leaf, special agent Alfonso Palermo (D’Angelo) asks potential suspects to “indulge him” during interrogations. I’ve heard some describe D’Angelo’s filmmaking as indulgent, which is why I smirked whenever Palermo asked this. Whether this was a cheeky wink toward critics is a mystery, and will probably remain unanswered.
I’m not necessarily qualified to make this criticism – I’ve only watched two out of five films from D’Angelo’s catalogue (Sicilian Vampire and this latest effort). However, even though both movies are different in tone, I’m capable of comparing both movies and noting if I’ve seen growth from Frank D’Angelo: the filmmaker, which I have.
As a patient and formidable storyteller, D’Angelo wants to feel the atmosphere in a room and acquaint himself with everybody – the narrative is almost an afterthought. In Sicilian Vampire, he carried this out by having characters hang out, tell jokes, and intimidate each other with tough banter. The main problem with these sequences is that they delayed the film’s stronger and stranger qualities.
The Red Maple Leaf plays as a more-realized drama. One where the director understands that his signatures and knacks may be better applied in another area. This time around, the hang-outs are glaring red herrings as special agent Palermo and his partner Robert Santos (Tony Nardi) search for the missing daughter of a scandalous US ambassador (Michael Paré) and his wife (Laurie Fortier).
Writer/director D’Angelo likes to lead his audience on; sometimes deceiving them for countless minutes, other times dangling the answer right in front of them. Sketchy suspects include a formally convicted pedophile (Daniel Baldwin), the ambassador’s assistant (Ellen Dubin), his mistress (Marina Anderson), and various others who are asked to leave a statement. The film takes its time with chatty encounters and vague exchanges, but his long takes usually result in an addictive whodunit.
I think Frank has matured as an actor too. He still sticks out like a sore thumb when acting alongside Paul Sorvino, Mira Sorvino, and a scene-stealing Martin Landau, but he’s very convincing as an exhausted, bitter cop who is still reeling from a devastating accident that killed his wife and daughter.
There’s no denying that The Red Maple Leaf is rough around the edges. Mostly due to shabby lighting and hard-to-swallow situations. Although, I couldn’t help myself from smiling when a saucy Doris Roberts (from Everybody Loves Raymond fame in her final feature role) casually calls the President of the United States from her living room. However, The Red Maple Leaf is still a stirring, twisty crime caper.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie