Film Rec

“Things Change” (1988)

Things Change 1988

Things Change is the sweetest gangster movie you’ll ever see. The film is the brainchild of a scriptwriting odd couple: David Mamet and Shel Silverstein. While Mamet is known for his hard-boiled tales of rogues and lowlifes, Silverstein built his reputation on whimsical books for children. Somehow, Things Change balances these contrasting styles into a very entertaining and unique final product.

The plot concerns Gino, a humble Italian shoeshine, who agrees to take the rap for a mob execution in return for a small chunk of cash when he gets out of the clink. Gerry, an independent-minded mob gofer, is assigned to watch over him until the trial. Taking pity on the old man, Gerry decides to spirit Gino away for one last hurrah at a mob-run casino. Comedic hijinks ensue.

Three reasons to watch:

  • The cast: Any fish-out-of-water tale lives and dies by the performance of the fish. Although Don Ameche won his Oscar for Cocoon, released in the same year, I think he’s at his finest here, giving Gino a humble dignity and charm that grounds the film. When he smiles, it just lights up the screen. Joe Mantegna provides capable support for this unlikely duo, which has real chemistry throughout their adventures. The rest of the cast is stacked with Mamet’s stalwarts, such as Ricky Jay, William H. Macy and P. T. Walsh.
  • It’s family-friendly: I’ve recommended a lot of bloodandguts movies on this site before, and this is certainly not one of them. Things Change might be the softest crime flick you’ll ever see. It’s rated PG, with only a few fleeting moments of violence, cursing and nudity. Silverstein made a career out of slipping subversive themes into kids’ books, but Things Change effectively does the opposite by making a gangster film wholesome.
  • The understated tone:  Not every movie has to be balls-to-the-wall action or nail-biting suspense. If you’re exhausted after a hard day working in the acid mines and just need an amiable pick-me-up without any saccharine music numbers or anguished declarations of undying love, you might give this one a try.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you about:

  • The understated tone: All that said, the opposite also holds true. Nothing here is going to bring you close to the edge of your seat, so if you’re in the mood for some explosions and rousing speeches, maybe dust off that sexy alien robot invasion film you’ve been neglecting and leave this one in the queue.

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