Whenever I feel the need to show anyone what a great and underrated actor Eric Roberts is, the first thing I do is tell them to watch ‘The Pope of Greenwich Village’. Roberts was seen recently in a small role — as mob boss Sal Maroni — in ‘The Dark Knight’ and as the primary antagonist in ‘The Expendables’. It’s a pity because the actor deserves so much more. ‘The Pope of Greenwich Village’ is a perfect showcase for both Roberts’ as well as Mickey Rourke’s talents. Rourke’s career witnessed a resurrection of sorts recently with ‘Sin City’ and ‘The Wrestler’, but it was during the ’80s that the actor was doing his best work. Beginning from 1981’s ‘Body Heat’ to 1989’s ‘Year of the Dragon’, he delivered one noteworthy performance after another.
‘The Pope of Greenwich Village’ is also a painful reminder of how handsome Rourke used to look at one point. And his character in the film, Charlie, likes to look good and dress well all the time. Charlie is the maître d’ of an expensive restaurant in the village. The way he dresses, one could mistake him for the owner of the place. Roberts plays his good-for-nothing cousin Paulie who works as a waiter in the same restaurant. He is constantly getting Charlie into trouble. When their boss finds out that Paulie is skimming checks, they both get fired. Paulie doesn’t seem to give two hoots about this; unlike Charlie, he doesn’t have a girlfriend and a baby on the way, to take care of. Charlie blows his fuse and asks him to grow up. However, given the loyalty and the strong bond that they share, they can’t let go of each other. When Paulie comes up with a “nice plan” — robbing somebody’s safe — Charlie reluctantly jumps on board.
This safe, unbeknownst to them, belongs to a local mob boss Bed Bug Eddie (Burt Young). And the safe-cracker is an old man who is not exactly Danny Ocean from ‘Ocean’s Eleven’. When a cop, who is on Eddie’s payroll, gets involved, things get really, really complicated. ‘The Pope of Greenwich Village’ is one of the most authentic and underappreciated New York movies which possesses the ability to strongly pull you in and envelop you in its rich atmosphere. It is populated with ordinary working class Italian-Americans, wiseguys, and Frank Sinatra music. This is one of those movies where you can tell the actors had a great time. It’s based on a novel by Vincent Patrick, who also wrote the screenplay. Surprisingly, the one actor who got an Oscar nomination (it’s the only one the film got) was Geraldine Page, who played the cop’s mother.