Directed by: Vincent Gallo
Starring: Vincent Gallo, Christina Ricci, Ben Gazzara
Fresh from a five-year stint in the state penitentiary, Buffalo-born Billy Brown is dead set on murdering the placekicker whose botched field goal attempt sent him there in the first place to repay a gambling debt, but first… he has to pay a visit to his parents. Seeing how Billy’s informed them of a fictitious wife he’s procured during the five years they’ve been apart, a fateful pit stop at a local dance studio results in the kidnapping of Layla, a young girl who’s to pose as said wife. What ensues is the formation of an increasingly helpful bond unforeseen by any and everyone, themselves included.
Vincent Gallo’s directorial debut is brilliant. What he’s crafted is essentially a tragic, admirably streamlined look at how neglectful parents and a botched childhood can take a tremendous toll on your psyche and, more importantly, overall demeanor. Gallo’s Billy is both fascinating as an individual and incredibly complex, putting on display all of the insecurities and imperfections that have turned him into the bitter young adult you see before you. It’s because of Billy’s hostile nature however that the bond formed between him and Layla is appropriately awkward, almost to the point where it’d be impossible not to see how she’s the much-needed antithesis to his raucous behavior, thus reinforcing the importance of said relationship and the impact it has on the overall maturation of Billy as a person.
Gallo’s ample screenplay and direction also have a hand in how poignant Buffalo ’66 manages to be, illustrating through a pivotal dinner sequence with Billy and Layla at the Brown household how his parents’ obvious indifference toward him as a son has led to how he is at present. With this comes some spot-on acerbic dialogue, of which sports a pinch of black comedy and a substantial amount of bickering between Billy and just about everyone he comes into contact with; most definitely due to overwhelming feelings of frustration and uneasiness based on his unfavorable past and dreadfully certain future. In fact, the only problem I had with the film pertains to the surreal quality a select few scenes possess, of which probably looked good on paper, but in my opinion seemed to take away from the overall tone set by the aforementioned rendezvous with his family.
Last, but certainly not least, we have the efforts of the cast. Here, Gallo’s genius manages to shine through once again in his portrayal of Billy, firing off line after line in a virulent machine gun-like fashion, accentuating his character’s flaws in the form of the verbal exchanges that take place between him and others. Ricci is also great as the reserved Layla, reluctant to tell Billy how she really feels about him despite how poorly he treats her; all on the basis of her knowing the kind of person Billy really is at heart. The rest of the supporting cast is dynamite in their respective roles, Gazzara and Huston as the very much estranged Mr. and Mrs. Brown respectively, playing cold and aloof when their son continually brings their negligence to their attention to no avail.
To say Buffalo ’66 is easily one of the best films of the 90s would be a pretty safe bet; it might even be one of the best of the past two decades. Despite the amount of time it supposedly took to put it into production, Vincent Gallo’s triumphant directorial debut is almost everything I’ve come to expect and appreciate within contemporary cinema, sporting a terrific script and superb acting to boot. With very few elements that had me shaking my head in dismay, I’d say Buffalo ’66 is most definitely worth your time.