In many ways, Clover feels like a knock-off of the gangster films you know and love. It has gory violence, a twisting tale of mistrust and deceit and so many Italian-American accents it’s impossible to keep count. The writing is often shoddy and some of the performances aren’t great. Simply put, it will not be the best film you’ll see this year. Yet surprisingly, despite all this, it does exactly what it intends to: entertain.
Clover rarely breaks new ground in its storytelling, largely adhering to the usual gangster movie cliches as it follows the attempts of protagonists Mickey (Jon Abrahams) and Jackie (Mark Webber) to escape the wrath of mob boss Tony (Chazz Palminteri), but it does enough to keep things strangely enjoyable – and includes an unexpected twist that freshens things up at just the right moment.
The adventures of Mickey and Jackie are excellently captured by Abrahams, behind the camera for the first time since 2016, using creative camerawork and intelligent framing to provide a fresh experience for the viewer in the absence of narrative originality. Abrahams combines with director of photography Matthew Quinn to produce visuals which are not only sophisticated but aesthetically pleasing, the use of dark reds and cool blues feeling reminiscent of the gloomy, squalid tones of movies like Taxi Driver.
However, the quality of the script falls well below the standards of Martin Scorsese. Large portions of the movie’s dialogue are awkward and clunky, and often feel as though they were written as part of some Goodfellas fanfic. There are moments of genuine humour, and the film does seem to have enough self-awareness to pull these moments off, but the more serious beats fail to hit home.
Characters which are meant to feel intimidating come off as slightly pathetic, with the work of Palminteri so under-served by the script that his character feels like he was pulled together on a ‘make-your-own-gangster-boss’ website. Michael Godere does his best as Tony’s son, Joey, but attempts to posit himself as a loose cannon are undermined by uninspiring dialogue. And Johnny Messner’s short-but-not-sweet turn as Stevie is predictable and fails to impact the audience as intended.
The highlight of the film, and what keeps it interesting throughout, is the dynamic between the leading characters. Abrahams and Webber are certainly not pushing for awards with their performances, but their volatile brotherly relationship is genuinely entertaining. The duo have a natural chemistry which leads to many amusing comedic beats, adding much-needed humour when things could feel stale. The film also calls on an excellent Jake Weber, as Terry, whose interactions with Mickey and Jackie provide the most memorable moments of the movie.
Clover is far from revolutionary, copying many of the tropes of past gangster movies without demonstrating the same level of sophistication in the scriptwriting, but it is undoubtedly fun. With an amusing dynamic between the leading duo, some impressive direction and enough self-awareness to keep things from becoming cringeworthy, this is an enjoyable, if far from perfect, independent thriller-comedy.
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