August 9, 2002 -- "Strictly Sinatra" is a little gem of a movie about a guy whose musical ambitions exceed his talents. The original title of the 2000 film is "Cocozza's Way," but was changed for the August 27, 2002, DVD release in the U.S. As the title suggests, the film has its share of musical numbers, none of them sung by Frank Sinatra, himself.
The main character of the story is Toni Cocozza (brilliantly played by Ian Hart of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"), a small time singer of Sinatra songs in England who wants to go big time. His ambition gets out of control when he is befriended by some local mobsters who like his singing. Their flattery swells his head and their power fuels a rise in his career. He is warned against getting involved with the mobsters by his friend and pianist, Bill (Alun Armstrong of "The Mummy Returns") and by his girlfriend, Irene, (Kelly Macdonald of "Gosford Park").
Cocozza, however, is enchanted by stories of Sinatra and other stars spun by a mysterious mobster named Chisolm (Brian Cox of "The Bourne Identity"). He also enjoys the feeling of being more important because he is "connected." Slowly, he is drawn into a life of crime, and his friends are unable to stop him. Ian Hart is very good at portraying a man who does some bad things and hurts his friends, but who remains a sympathetic character. You can't help but root for him. On top of that, Hart also does his own singing in the movie. Alun Armstrong and Kelly Macdonald both shine as Cocozza's friends. Brian Cox does a masterful job playing a complex, manipulative mobster, who just might have a soft spot in his heart for Cocozza. Tommy Flanagan of "Gladiator" does his usual effective menacing characterization of the mobster Michaelangelo.
Writer-director Peter Capaldi ("Franz Kafka's It's A Wonderful Life") does a fine job balancing the dramatic and comic elements of the story. One surprise musical number is dazzling. Capaldi has also found a neat way to stand the mafia movie genre on its head at times. Some won't approve of how he handles the genre, but I thought he provided a pleasant twist to the way these stories are usually told. Capaldi, who is also an actor, gets excellent performances from his actors. This film rates a B.
The dual-layer DVD has no bells and whistles, but is technically solid. It comes in a widescreen anamorphic format with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It comes in both DTS and Dolby (TM) surround sound options. Soundtracks include both English and French, with English and Spanish subtitles also available.
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