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Hizzoner Among Thieves

Minor problems aside, City Hall is a sharp, vivid look at the ambiguities and perquisites of big-city politics--how black and white merge into gray. How all this will play in Iowa is unclear: Obviously, most Americans don't have the affection for New York that these moviemakers have, and while people like Bill Clinton and Bob Dole would immediately grasp the film's Machiavellian tangles, they might need an interpreter to get through its jivey thickets of language. In the end, though, City Hall feels less parochial than pan-political: When John Pappas, who may have to do as a tragic hero in times like these, hugs a police widow and whispers: "The city takes care of its own," the several meanings of his message resonate nicely, even far out in the countryside. There's lots of color in this smart movie, but it's a shade everyone can live with.

City Hall. Screenplay by Ken Lipper, Paul Schrader, Nicholas Pileggi and Bo Goldman. Directed by Harold Becker. With Al Pacino, John Cusack, Bridget Fonda, Danny Aiello and Martin Landau.

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