Director: Alan Taylor
Screenwriters: David Epstein

Institute History

  • 1996 Sundance Film Festival


For lifelong friends Sid, Russ, and Jerry, there has always been a lingering sense of frustration in Palookaville. Life seems to be passing them by, and they deserve better. Their get-rich-quick schemes, such as providing a friendly driver service from the supermarket for old folks, never amount to much. The only solution seems to be to commit the perfect crime—just one—so that cash can pave the way out of oblivion forever. Unfortunately, this harmless trio isn’t up to much more than hanging out at the diner: “We’re not
really cut out for this,” says Jerry. “Some people are. For instance, criminals.”

They are still mooning over their bungled heist of a jewelry store (they inadvertently tunneled into a neighboring bakery) when an armored security truck loaded with cash swerves off the road right in front of them. It seems that the elderly driver has had a heart attack. Russ, of course, is alert to all the possibilities, but they’re basically good kids so they take the driver to the hospital and return the truck. But this incident gives them an idea, and they start to plan the perfect heist. But what they don’t learn when they watch the 1950s film Armored Car Robbery is that nothing ever goes according to plan, even though the payoff sometimes comes in a most surprising way.

Palookaville is not just a clever, smartly written comedy. It is also a carefully realized look at the innocence of desperation. Our heros are constantly searching for validation, proof that society has mistakenly snubbed them, to sanction their victimless criminal activity. Like all real friends, they find this affirmation in each other through the love they share. Adam Trese, Vincent Gallo, and William Forsythe blend their talents perfectly as the hapless friends. Lisa Gay Hamilton plays Jerry’s fiercely independent wife Betty, Kim Dickens plays Russ’s amorous neighbor, and Bridget Ryan is kooky and wonderful as Sid’s chance encounter in a secondhand fur store. In director Alan Taylor’s capable hands, Palookaville won the prize for best first film at this year’s Venice Film Festival, which is no surprise when you watch this clever, offbeat, and ingeniously crafted tale unfold.

— Christian Gaines

Screening Details

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