Only seemingly formulaic, Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead is a crime thriller with a twist and strong noir vibes. There’s something about it that makes it very memorable and I can’t quite figure out what. The best bet would be the well-developed characters played by an ensemble cast. However, underneath the main story is this raging current of emotions that’s visible only at times. Potent, disturbing, and visceral, it explores the concepts of power, death and a life lived well. All of them are always running in the back of our minds and this movie pulls them a little closer to the surface. But more about that later. First, you will have to get through the opening twenty minutes that are the weakest point of this movie. It gets progressively better, trust me.
The story in Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead is a familiar one. We have a charismatic criminal trying to go legit pulled once more into the fray. He has to get the old band together to pull off this simple and highly lucrative job. As you might imagine, things will not go as smoothly as they imagined. And while there are some strong Tarantino vibes here, especially with the dialogue and general storytelling, the bulk of the movie is authentic. The atmosphere transitions back and forth from brooding to casually nihilistic. The entire movie feels like some sort of a dark mafia fairy tale. A tale that you will either love or hate, without much middle ground.
Jimmy The Saint is a smooth and charismatic former criminal now running a legit business. He’s providing services for the terminally ill, videotaping their last words for friends and family. However, the business has not been good for some time and Jimmy had to borrow some money. This led him back to his old mafia boss “The Man With The Plan”. It just so happens that he has a job for him. A simple and easy job that will still require Jimmy The Saint to get in touch with his old crew…
Can a movie where Steve Buscemi plays an extremely skilled hitman called Mr. Shhh be all that bad? I mean the forced dialogue was a problem at times, unlike in Tarantino’s films where he’s able to get away with it. This is simply not how people talk but this is how you daydream you would be able to talk. I also had trouble figuring out why there was so much anti-gay stuff in here. I mean, they sure love playing with “dangerous” topics like disability, pedophilia, murder, and death. But that still doesn’t explain why the characters felt the need to bash gays so much. I guess they were trying too hard to be edgy and controversial and it messed with the atmosphere so hard.
However, once we start meeting the crew, you can’t help but get drawn in. They are diverse, fucked up, and above all, fun and entertaining guys. The subdued machismo is oozing from every reference and scene. Buckwheats my friend, it’s buckwheats for you! This is also an ode to the old-school wise guys, criminals with the code reminiscing about the good old days. The storytelling may be clunky but it has an honest feel to it. And if you like this sort of movie, you will know to appreciate that. You might wanna check out The Immortals if you like this sort of thing.
Finally, I have to right some wrongs. I first saw Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead when I was in my teens. Back then, it felt like a much darker and grittier experience. However, one character, one actor, one story, and one nickname stayed with me throughout the years. From that point on, Treat Williams was Pieces and every time I mentioned him either here or in life I would call him that. In reality, his nickname here is Critical Bill while Christopher Lloyd’s character is called Pieces. To find out why I remembered that story and why I mistakenly called him that, you will have to check out this solid and pretty dark thriller. Enjoy.
Director: Gary Fleder
Writer: Scott Rosenberg
Cast: Andy Garcia, Christopher Walken, Christopher Lloyd, William Forsythe, Bill Nunn, Treat Williams, Fairuza Balk
Fun Facts: Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg created the distinctive slang-based vocabulary used by the characters in the film by mixing Vietnam slang and biker slang, and adding in some of his own original diction.