Saturday 14 August 2021

Movie Review: A Stranger Among Us (1992)

A murder investigation, romance and cultural exposition, A Stranger Among Us (also known as Close To Eden) is sloppily scripted and badly acted.

Emily Eden (Melanie Griffith) is a tough New York City detective, unafraid to use her gun when needed. After her partner Nick (Jamey Sheridan) is wounded in a knife attack, she is assigned the missing person case of Yaakov Klausman (Jake Weber), a member of the close-knit Hasidic Jewish community in New York's jewellery district. She connects with the community's Rebbe (Lee Richardson) and his two adopted children Ariel (Eric Thal) and Leah (Mia Sara), as well as Yaakov's fiancĂ©e Mara (Tracy Pollan).

Emily's blunt manner clashes with the staid and conservative society, but she uncovers Yaakov's dead body, transforming the case to a murder investigation. Backed-up by her new partner Levine (John Pankow), Emily goes undercover as a guest in the Rebbe's household, and starts to learn and appreciate Hasidic culture and traditions while falling in love with Ariel.

Whether due to her voice, wardrobe, make-up, or general demeanour, Melanie Griffith never comes close to convincing as a hardened New York City cop. She tries hard and in a couple of quiet scenes reveals the warmth of a woman craving meaningful connections, but otherwise the immature script by Robert J. Avrech and Sidney Lumet's wayward direction are of no help. Griffith is stranded with inane lines of dialogue trying to convey churlish behaviour, launching A Stranger Among Us onto the wrong track from which it never recovers.

The plot is similar to 1985's Witness, a crime used as an entryway to demystify a visible but secluded culture. And for long stretches of A Stranger Among Us, the murder investigation is parked off to the side, almost forgotten as Emily navigates a different way of life and embarks on a stuttering romance with Ariel. Scenes of food preparation, families gathering for mourning or meals, joyous dancing, and sombre religious ceremonies predominate, interrupted by conservative/liberal debates between Emily and Ariel, who come from different worlds and may as well be speaking different languages.

Their romance is chemistry-free, and not helped by her former and current partners Nick and Levine incessantly lusting after her seemingly for no reason other than her being a woman. Emily's sophomoric love life becomes yet another narrative distraction.

A couple of antagonists (including James Gandolfini) literally walk through the door and loudly introduce themselves as villainous racketeers, to make sure Emily remembers she actually has a job to do. It all ends in a rushed and inexplicable mess, key characters acting out of character because the script said so. Strangers may be among us, but they are still best avoided.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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