'37': Film Review

Takes a compelling real-life tale and transforms it into banal domestic drama.

Puk Grasten's directorial debut is a fictional examination of the 1964 Kitty Genovese murder.

It's hard to imagine a dull film based on the infamous Kitty Genovese murder, but Danish filmmaker Puk Grasten's fictional take on the horrific, real-life crime manages the dubious accomplishment. Unlike The Witness, the riveting documentary about the subject that opened earlier this year, 37 transforms a fascinating tale into banal domestic drama, shedding little light on the case. Count it as a complete misfire.

Genovese's brutal 1964 rape/murder in Kew Garden, Queens, became a national sensation when The New York Times reported that dozens of the young woman's neighbors had witnessed the event without doing anything to help or even notifying the police. The account was eventually revealed to be erroneous, but by then the story had long become emblematic of urban indifference.

Director-screenwriter Grasten attempts to provide an explanation for what caused people to supposedly ignore Genovese's desperate cries for help by presenting a gallery of fictional characters dealing with personal travails. They include, among others: Archibald (Michael Potts) and Joyce (Samira Wiley), an African-American couple who've just moved into the predominately white neighborhood and who clash over Archibald's bullying of their 5-year-old son; Debbie (Sophia Lillis), a troubled young woman living with her Jewish grandparents (Thomas Kopache, Lucy Martin); and a couple (Jamie Harrold, Maria Dizzia) experiencing marital problems, whose little boy is obsessed with extraterrestrials.

Affording Genovese (Christina Brucato) only a brief appearance in this sprawling drama inspired by her murder, the film, whose title reflects the supposed number of witnesses, is remarkably tension-free. Featuring one banal domestic scene after another, it provides little context for the onlookers not bothering to help the victim other than that they were distracted by their own problems. Since the original account has been widely discredited anyway, it all seems beside the point. And many of the characterizations, such as the two old ladies in fur coats who literally hiss at a young boy, are broad to the point of caricature.  

Shot on location, 37 boasts a convincingly gritty period atmosphere, and several of the actors, especially the increasingly impressive Wiley (Orange Is the New Black), deliver strong performances that almost, but not quite, succeed in making you care about their characters.

Distributor: Film Movement
Production companies: Regner Grasten Film, Game 7 Films
Cast: Samira Wiley, Michael Potts, Adrian Martinez, Maria Dizzia, Jamie Harrold, Thomas Kopachne, Lucy Martin, Sophia Lillia
Director-screenwriter: Puk Grasten
Producers: Asger Hussain, Yaron Schwartzman
Executive producers: Asger Hussain, Yaron Schwartzman
Director of photography: Adam Jandrup
Production designer: Kaet McAnneny
Editor: Gregers Dohn
Costume designer: Elizabeth Shelton
Composer: Nabil Nafar
Casting: Lois J. Drabkin

Not rated, 82 minutes

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