As are all of John Cassavetes’s central characters, Cosmo is someone you want to follow. There is nothing particularly intriguing about his character, but the simplicity with which he goes about his business and the pride he has for his little world gives him a sympathetic quality; Ben Gazzara has worked with Cassavetes before most memorably in Husbands, and also in Opening Night, but in this one almost all the focus is on him. He becomes the film; his smiley, likable face is all that is needed. Saying this, he does possess some objectively admirable qualities that can be enjoyed with or without his smiley face, like his laid-back, generous approach to running the club, or the sparks of softness and kindness that he shows towards his dancer and girlfriend, the beautiful Rachel.
Read at Unsung Films: Husbands.
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie travels alongside Cosmo as he moves through his life as a small-time club owner on Sunset Strip, and trying to deal with a gambling debt that he doesn’t have time for. Eventually, he is talked into killing a wealthy Chinese Mafia boss: his creditors’ rival. What is attractive about Cosmo is that you can never really figure him out… he drifts from one place to the next at a distance. Because Cosmo’s interaction with the characters around him is so real, and the director’s knack for piecing together such pleasurably lifelike scenarios is so great, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie only confirms why we watch Cassavetes’s films – he exposes human flaws through his cinema without making us hate his characters, and so the first reaction is not to condemn people but to warm to them and sympathise with them, and finally, understand that the flaws in humanity, and the flaws that Cassavetes portrays in his films, are simply the inevitable unfolding of human nature. He gets close to and feels the characters he writes. His films are wholly original works; alongside filmmakers like David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick, he should be placed alongside the cinematic revolutionaries. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is a demonstration of an entire genre created by Cassavetes.
The story is funny and at times painful. Cosmo’s girlfriend experiences a quiet kind of pain that is her own. The way that she deals with her love for Cosmo is fascinating, and next to her is her mother, she makes up a large part of the film. Cassavetes does refrain from getting too close to Cosmo, keeping a safe distance until one of the final scenes where he addresses his employees in the changing room, following a self-deprecating outburst from Mr Sophistication (a fantastic Meade Roberts, in my favourite of his roles).
Here, for the first time, he is wholly vulnerable. But this is also the first time in the film that he is not kept far away from the audience; he is pulled in; it is this scene where Cassavetes pulls everything together and where the audience realises why the film exists… It is not obvious, and often Cassavetes’s indecisive style of storytelling obscures the purpose and the message, but when the viewer allows it to wash over him, it is an almost blissful realisation. Cassavetes wants to show the viewer that he believes in their patience and their intelligence. It is this that makes his films so important – an unparalleled respect for his audience combined with a very real love for the characters he portrays.
Watch the trailer for The Killing of a Chinese Bookie here: