**½/**** Image A Sound A-
starring Ian Hart, Kelly Macdonald, Brian Cox, Alun Armstrong
written and directed by Peter Capaldi
by Walter Chaw A smalltime flick in which a smalltime crooner accidentally becomes a smalltime hood, hyphenate Peter Capaldi's sophomore feature Strictly Sinatra (a.k.a. Cocozza's Way) is an enjoyable crime romance about a longtime loser with a bottom-shelf whiskey voice who falls for cigarette-girl Irene (Kelly Macdonald). A rendering of "In the Ghetto" leads to a bought drink to a favour paid to crime boss Chisolm (Brian Cox), followed fast by the slow sneaking realization that our little Toni Cocozza (Ian Hart) has been drawn into a spider's den of organized crime.
Perhaps a satirical jab at King Rat Pack's alleged mob ties and perhaps merely convenient shorthand for the same, Cocozza becomes the Irish mafia's private lounge lizard and favourite charity case. Cox is brilliant as his typically layered heavy while a supporting cast of UK's finest (Alun Armstrong, Tommy Flannigan, Iain Cuthbertson, and Richard E. Grant) lend able backup to Toni and Irene's softhearted courtship. (Though it may be heresy to say so, Macdonald is better here than in Altman's Gosford Park.) The strengths of the picture are the small actorly moments between Hart and Macdonald, Hart and Armstrong (who plays Cocozza's father), and Hart and Cox; the weaknesses of the film come in an uncertain tone and a story arc that begins to feel a little twee and familiar besides.
After Toni gets a coveted television gig at the strongarm of his roughneck protectors, he finds himself fending off junkyard dogs with a bone and trying (yes, unsuccessfully) to keep his underworld connections away from naïf Irene. Predictable complications and resolutions ensue as Toni takes on the role of innocent observer and unwitting accomplice, though almost all is forgiven by its sense of serendipitous whimsy and, of course, its groovy vocal classic soundtrack. The only conclusion, of course, is that from The Chairman of the Board's velvet tonsils wells the spring of eternal hipster cool--but of course, it does even without trifles like Strictly Sinatra.
Universal presents Strictly Sinatra on DVD in a handsome 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that's crisp, clean, and bright. Fleshtones veer between a touch rosy and a mite pasty, but that could probably also be attributed to a general Irish ruddiness; separation otherwise is sharp with a decided lack of artifacts and edge-enhancement. The 5.1 audio mix (in Dolby Digital and DTS configurations) is roomy and full in its musical sequences (actually too few on a second walkthrough)--they're reproduced with good volume and nice fidelity. Save some dog-barking in chapter 12, the rear channels don't get much of a workout, but Strictly Sinatra isn't that kind of film. There are no special features on this presentation. Originally published: August 22, 2002.
97 minutes; R; 1.85:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, English DTS 5.1, French Dolby Surround; CC; English, Spanish subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Universal