Cinematic Releases: Durant's Never Closes

Andrew reviews the mobster steakhouse biopic, Durant's Never Closes.

Anyone got some blow or some hookers or
some crack orrrrrr.......
The late Arizona steakhouse founder and owner Jack Durant was considered in the 1950s to be one of the FBI's Top Ten Most Dangerous Men in Arizona.  A legend in his own time with links to gang related violence and possible murder though nothing has been proven to be fact as of yet, the man's classy restaurant/bar was a hot spot for many famous (and infamous) figures of wealth including but not limited to celebrities, politicians and of course, other like minded gangsters.  

Working from Mabel Leo's biography The Sage of Jack Durant with loose adaptation of Terry Earp's play, director Travis Mills' film Durant's Never Closes prominently features Tom Sizemore in the titular role of Mr. Durant.  A mercurial figure exuding danger, mania, possession and a keen ability to project his own failings onto those nearest to him, the film is something of a behind the scenes memoir of what it was like to dine in at Durant's while he still frequented the bar where he overheard every conversation his customers had about him.  The resulting film plays something like a student filmed gangster driven neo-noir with the narrative framework of All That Jazz as Sizemore's Durant sits in his restaurant with a trusty cigarette and Shakespeare collection musing about the past which led him to where he is now.  More than a little rough around the edges with some abrupt tonal shifts, the real reason to see it is for Tom Sizemore's performance which is as much of an interpretation of Jack Durant as it is a channeling of his own buried demons.

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Funded by Kickstarter, the film has a do-it-yourself textbook filmmaking quality to it despite having fully rebuilt the famed diner for the film and some handsome widescreen cinematography by Nikolai Fornwalt.  It has the feel of a collegiate film and there was a dream sequence mid-film involving Durant's memories of dealings with Bugsy Siegel with jarring ADR.  Something of a shaky but well meaning production, the tale of the still open restaurant with a criminal past is kept from falling into student film mediocrity by the loose cannon central performance by Sizemore.  Having been an avid follower of Sizemore for years, including but not limited to his career highlights (Natural Born Killers) to all time lows (Sober House), it is safe to say no one could have given Durant's Never Closes as much color and flavor as Mr. Sizemore has.  From his crusty exterior, cantankerousness, quickness to outbursts of violent rage and a sense there's more behind the depressed face than meets the eye, Sizemore is positively electric as Jack Durant.  Reportedly former employees overheard Sizemore's dialect as director Mills conducted research on the topic and noted Sizemore sounded almost exactly like Jack Durant.  Turning in strong supporting performances are Michelle Stafford as Durant's battered ex-wife, Jon Gries (yup, Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite) as his alcoholic friend and director Peter Bogdonavich as a crime boss.  Overall the cast is solid but most of the performers take a backseat to Sizemore who possesses arguably the same sense of danger about him on set as the equally troubled yet gifted actor Mickey Rourke.

I'm sorry. I just couldn't help myself.
Those cookies are just so damned good. 
Those expecting a definitive treatment of the criminal turned beloved (and feared) restaurant owner aren't going to get any grand revelations or answers here in a film that is a smorgasbord overview of the man's life.  More of an actor's film than anything else, the film attempts to ground some of the anecdotes peppering the picture with real life confessionals from former employees of the restaurant and close friends of Durant's.  It's an interesting cherry on top but doesn't bring much closure to the man's life story.  As it stands, Durant's Never Closes provided a wildly entertaining performance by Tom Sizemore and piqued my interest in both the real figure and the famed establishment itself.  Moreover, the director's real aim is to try and kickstart a film industry within his home town of Arizona, a great location for scenic beauty and like Australia an area where few people thought you could make such topically rich films.  That said, Durant's Never Closes falls somewhere between the bank robbery drama Electric Slide and the deeply Southern actor driven antics of Fast Sofa.  A good two hour time killer and doorway to what in all honesty proved to be a genuinely fascinating man of crime with his fingers in a still well respected establishment, but don't expect anything Earth shattering.

- Andrew Kotwicki