Plot: An accountant who worked for the mafia is about to turn state’s evidence, but before he can get protection from the federal agents, he and his family are killed by a mob hit squad. In a desperate move, the family’s youngest son Phil (John Adames) was left with a neighbor, a woman named Gloria (Gena Rowlands), who hates kids and feels put out by this imposition. Phil also happens to have the evidence his father had taken from the mafia and while Gloria dislikes children, she has former ties to the mob herself and plans to uncover the truth. Soon she realizes that the men who killed the family are former associates of hers and they aren’t to be trifled with, so she takes Phil on the run, which prompts the authorities to think she has kidnapped the child. Can she figure out some kind of plan to evade capture from both sides and keep Phil safe, even as he drives her crazy?
Entertainment Value: Often labeled as John Cassavetes’ most accessible movie, Gloria is a masterful, character driven drama that showcases an excellent lead turn from Gena Rowlands. The narrative is simple enough, as a woman who despises children is tasked to protect one after his family is killed, the kind of story that could easily melt into melodrama or worse. Gloria does have emotional moments to be sure, but Cassavetes ensures that sentiment is earned and natural, as the relationship between Gloria and Phil is never forced in the least. The bond between them feels so natural and well developed, a relationship that grows out of small, but powerful moments, thanks to Cassavetes’ skilled writing and direction. Gloria is kind of one long chase, with some crime drama, thriller, and light comedy elements, but the tone doesn’t come off as too busy, as again, these threads are handled with great skill. The crime theme leads to some very light kinetic action as well, but it is grounded and revolves around the threat of violence more than outright gunfire. I also love how the urban landscape is such a prominent part of the narrative, with a grimy, bleak texture given to the city that really enhances the entire movie. I think Gloria is a terrific movie with a dynamic lead from Rowland, so it earns a high recommendation.
The character development and urban atmosphere of Gloria are big reasons why it works so well, but I think perhaps the most important element here is Gena Rowlands’ remarkable performance. She has the role of a tough, no nonsense woman with a past connected to the mafia world, but thanks to her performance and the skilled writing, it is so much more than that. The character is given substance and depth, as she is indeed a hard edged woman who will fight for what she thinks is right, but she is also allowed to be vulnerable and human. I appreciate that, as usually weakness in these kind of strong females comes through as physical persistence, but there is a lot of internal work with Gloria, truly a memorable character. Rowlands conveys that worn down, take no shit attitude to sheer perfection, but is also able to make the gradual emotional beats work well also, it is a fantastic effort on her part. John Adames is also quite good, in a much better performance than most kids could manage, as he avoids the usual pitfalls of younger actors. He and Rowlands have a unique dynamic that is part antagonistic and part dependent, but it always feels natural and develops at a grounded level, which is crucial to the picture. The cast of Gloria also includes Buck Henry, Tom Noonan, and Julie Carmen.
The Disc: Twilight Time’s Blu-ray release of Gloria looks terrific, likely as good as the movie will ever look on home video. A little softness is evident at times, but that seems to be inherent to the source, as most scenes show a good level of detail and a sharper overall presence than before. The natural grain is intact, which is always good news, as some treatments scrub the visuals too much. The toned down color design fits the material to perfection, as the city has that grimy, rundown atmosphere and the visuals back that up. The extras include the isolated music track and the film’s theatrical trailers.