Ray Liotta is an underappreciated, underused actor in contemporary cinema. He seems like an actor born for another era, another period, another decade in cinema history. This decade would be the mid to late 1940s into the 50s when the studio system still flourished and were routinely turning out pictures like The Big Sleep (1946), Gilda (1946) and Kiss Me Deadly (1955), three films he could’ve easily been cast in and would most likely have brought them off with the same mix of moral ambiguity and romantic edginess that Bogart, Ford and Meeker gave to them.
In his career Liotta has given great performances that deserved awards, especially the Academy Award. For example his performance in Goodfellas (1990) for which he wasn’t even nominated. But our subject of the moment is the film Phoenix (1998) which he coproduced and played the leading role. This is one of the best crime/noir films to come along in the past decade or more. It got a limited release in 1998 and was met with mixed critical reception after which it quickly disappeared. This is a shame because it clearly was a labor of love by everyone involved with alert direction by Danny Cannon, a smart pungent script by Eddie Richey and a dream cast that could’ve only been gathered by love for the project and friendship with co producer Liotta. They include Daniel Baldwin, Xander Berkeley, Giancarlo Esposito, Anjelica Houston, Anthony LaPaglia, Jeremy Piven, and Giovanni Rabisi all giving the kind of ensemble, non ego asserting performances we hardly see anymore.
This film has been so discarded that both the DVD and the VHS versions were at one time being offered in the 99 Cents store movie bin. But don’t let that deter you. This is one of the best Contemporary crime films to come along in a long time and it showcases Liotta in what is possibly his best performance since the landmark Goodfellas.