A Decade Later, Classic Crime Thriller Chicago Overcoat Still Finding Its Fit
By GREG BEAUBIEN SEPT. 13, 2017 (updated SEPT. 15, 2017)
“YOU CAN’T STOP THE FLOOD OF MEMORIES when it starts to rain,” says Lou Marazano, played by actor Frank Vincent in the gripping crime drama Chicago Overcoat. “You either fight to get dry, or you let it pour all over you.”
In this stylish 2009 film from director Brian Caunter, Lou is an aging hitman for the Chicago mob who hasn’t killed anyone for 20 years and never rose through the ranks, but is now looking for one last lucrative job so he can retire to Las Vegas. “I don’t have any delusions of status,” he says in one of the movie’s many well-written voice-overs. The screenplay is by Josh Staman, Andrew Alex Dowd, John W. Bosher and Caunter.
Lou is given another chance when authorities begin investigating mafia embezzlement of a union pension fund that threatens a crime boss played by Armand Assante, who is in prison for a short-term sentence that could stretch to 25 years if witnesses talk. The chieftain wants them murdered, but there’s not enough cash in the budget to hire a young, agile killer for the job. Lou asks for the assignment, against the initial resistance of his organized-crime superiors, who remind him that such work is a young man’s game and the pay isn’t worth the risk for him. But Lou has a daughter who’s divorced from her young son’s deadbeat, coke-head father, himself a member of another Chicago-area mafia crew in Cicero. Lou wants to provide for his daughter and grandson and move to Vegas for a fresh start.
Vincent, who died Sept. 13, 2017, memorably portrayed gangsters in the Martin Scorsese films Goodfellas and Casino, and also played Tony Soprano’s nemesis Phil Leotardo in the final season of The Sopranos. In Chicago Overcoat, his character arranges an alibi for his newly commissioned hits by reuniting with his former lover, Lorraine (Kathrine Narducci, who played Charmaine Bucco on The Sopranos).
Lou’s second hit, in which he suffocates a corrupt city alderman one night by pulling a plastic bag over the man’s head, is partially witnessed through the office blinds by cops staking out the building from across the street. Lou finishes the job and gets away, but is picked up by a patrolman while walking along the street under the ‘L’ tracks. At the police station, Lou is interrogated by a cop who remembers him from the old days and has a score to settle. Thanks to Lou’s alibi, the police have to let him go. But he has been exposed, and the mob bosses decide to have Lou killed. He ends up fighting gangsters and then cops in the film’s dramatic conclusion, in one scene with an old Thompson submachine gun nicknamed a “Chicago typewriter.”
Made for $3 million and shot on 35-millimeter film by six then-recent graduates of Chicago’s Columbia College film school when they were in their early twenties, Chicago Overcoat is a remarkably accomplished piece of independent moviemaking. (The title is Depression-era slang for a coffin.) Particularly impressive is that the young men not only got a feature film produced with recognizable stars (who also included Stacy Keach and Mike Starr), but they convincingly wrote the story from the point of view of a man in his sixties whose glory days are far behind him and who is looking for one last opportunity to regain his self-respect.
In September, the filmmakers are commemorating the tenth anniversary of the start of principal photography on Chicago Overcoat.
“We were certainly aware of what a great opportunity it was at that age,” Chris Charles, the movie’s casting director and associate producer, told Moresby Press. And now, “Ten years later, the film is still finding an audience.”
Charles said the costs of a theatrical release were too high, so the film premiered on Showtime. “It’s just so difficult to compete with studio films that have huge marketing budgets,” he said. “It’s incredibly expensive to put a movie in theaters.” Chicago Overcoat has since been released on home video and through Redbox, Hulu, iTunes, Netflix, and most recently, Amazon Video, where Amazon Prime members can watch the movie for free.
Have the talented filmmakers behind Chicago Overcoat received the esteem they deserve? “I’m very satisfied with the recognition it got,” said Charles, who estimates that millions of people around the world have seen the film on television. “For a bunch of guys coming out of school in our twenties and taking our first crack, I think we did ok.”
In a strange and sad coincidence, Frank Vincent died the same day this story was first posted, at the age of 78.
“Honestly, it still hasn’t sunk in for me yet,” Charles said two days later. “Frank really took a chance with us, and we’ll never forget it. We became quite close with him and his wife, Kathy, over the years, and we had plans to work together on other projects. But it’s nice to know that Frank will live on through all of his iconic performances.”
Melissa Prophet, Vincent’s longtime manager, said “He was so proud of this movie, and he had the best experience making it.”