When I started writing movie reviews, I simply reviewed whatever movie I watched and, for a while, that was fun. The problem, however, is that getting press kits (quotes, images, and posters) can be difficult. As I reached out to get these items, a few different things happened – in some cases, I ended up on mailing lists for PR firms and ended up getting real screeners; in other cases, I ended up being told that I wasn’t even important enough to have access to press kits. As this happened, I shifted away from major studios and started reviewing a lot more indie films. This prompted some indie filmmakers to start reaching out directly via my website. Sometimes, these are student projects that are so painfully bad, that I don’t review them because I don’t have anything nice to say, other times, they blow my mind and I’m amazed that they pulled it off. That’s how Dress Code ended up in my email – actor/producer Gerard Garilli reached out months ago with the film.
I watched the trailer and my initial thought was, “Oh… another low budget crime film… I’ll throw it on the pile if I have time.” For some reason, and I don’t know why, most low-budget indie films fall into one of two categories – crime or horror. I honestly, would have likely forgotten the film, and honestly I did once or twice, because the trailer wasn’t anything special. However, Garilli was persistent and reached out a few times to remind me about the film. I respected this and made sure to make a note to review the film when I had time. I finally had the chance to sit down and watch the film and I think that this is a clear cut case of a film having a bad trailer.
Movie trailers of the last 10-15 years have been horrible in general. In the past, a trailer would setup the basic premise of the film and leave you wondering what will happen. Today, major blockbusters spoil themselves and reveal way too much in the trailer. People are often perplexed when I say that I haven’t seen the trailers for upcoming films and typically that’s because they ruin the movie. The current audience needs a straight forward story without nuance and without any real intrigue. People hate mystery… that’s why films like Knives Out, which didn’t contain a single original idea and instead simply stole from what every previous mystery film had done, are so popular today. Other times, trailers are put together in a way that doesn’t even contain a hook. They go too far in the opposite direction. Sometimes, they are playing on star power, and it works. Other times, particularly with indie films, they are just doing themselves a disservice. That’s why trailer editing, much like sound editing, is something that a production should not skimp on.
This was a huge issue for Dress Code. I would love to take the film and cut my own trailer. I feel like I would have been eager and excited to see Dress Code with a slightly better trailer cut. Instead, I thought I was getting a film that’s been done a million times because the hook was completely excluded from the trailer. Here’s the kicker, the film has a big hook… it’s big and shiny and really catches your attention. So, here we are, at the length of my typical review and I’ve barely discussed the film because I was legitimately upset at the disservice that the trailer did to this film.
So, without more ranting from yours truly, let’s talk about Dress Code. The first thing we should talk about is the casting, but we need to discuss the basic premise of the film before we venture down that path. The film follows Bobby Russo (played, as an adult, by Gerard Garilli and, as a child, by Nicholas Giordano) whose family is tied up with organized crime in a big way. We get to see present day as well as glimpses of his childhood. Let’s talk about the teens in the film first, as they appear in the flashback sequences. They are, nearly universally, not good actors. While Giordano is decent as a young Bobby Russo, the other actors who share scenes with him cannot act and bring down his performance. When Giordano performs with adult actors, he can definitely hold his own. Do not let the awful acting in the first 10-15 minutes of the film turn you away from watching the movie. The adult actors, however, are fantastic. It was completely unexpected that I would get such believable performances in such a low budget film. I’m not going to lie, there were definitely times where I wondered if the entire thing was a mob film and that’s why all of the performances were so credible.
While the performances are great, where the film really struggles is the cinematography. While the image quality is there (sometimes low budget films feel like they were shot on an old flip phone camera), the lighting and framing were less than ideal. While we tend to idolize actors, directors, and, rarely, script writers… there’s a lot that goes into filmmaking and the process is a lot like Jenga… if any piece is flawed or jostled, it can topple the entire product. We don’t give everyone else involved the proper credit because we only notice when things go poorly and we tend to just say, that film had poor production quality. That isn’t the case here… there are so many pieces that go well and then you just get weird shots or poor lighting and start to wonder why that was selected.
This is a film where the writer deserves to be recognized. Peter Panagos wrote the script and he gave us a twist on the mob genre that nobody saw coming… he gave us the hook that makes this film so unique. Unfortunately, that hook was completely excluded from the trailer and the film’s synopsis. Since this was clearly a conscious decision made by the film’s creators, I’m going to respect that and not reveal it here. However, I think a lot of people will overlook this film because the hook is hidden. This is not a plot twist that should come out of left field in my opinion, it is a correct aspect of the film that should be put on display, discussed, and respected. Sadly, it is not and you need to just trust me that the film is unlike any mob movie that you’ve seen before and definitely worthy of watching.
To quote Martin Scorsese’s classic ‘Goodfellas’- “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster”. Well, I didn’t really want to be a gangster, but from my earliest memories, I knew I wanted to tell gangster stories. When Gerard approached me with this project, I jumped at the opportunity to take a shot (no pun intended) at a genre that has meant so much to so many people. The most difficult part of creating a mob film in 2023 is giving the audience something they have not seen before. While all gangster films have to hit certain notes, and follow familiar beats, I truly believe we created something that can both expand the genre to newer audiences, as well as provide nostalgia for those of us who grew up obsessed with these stories.
Joseph Pupello, director
I think that Pupello was on to something with this quote. They created something that I’ve never seen before and, in the moment that I saw it, I was excited to see it. I, however, am in a unique position because I watch movies – good or bad – in order to write and publish these reviews. The typical viewer needs to be pulled into a movie before they see it. Like I said, most modern films go too far and reveal too much, but, in this case, the trailer doesn’t go far enough and it needs to give the viewer a taste of what is to come. The audience that I think would appreciate this film isn’t going to know to appreciate it because the trailer gives us a generic film, but reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
The film’s conclusion was a little lacking for me… I felt like I missed something that prevented it from all coming together cleanly. I know where they were going and why they had to get there to complete the story, but I think that they rushed things a little bit, preventing us from fully understanding why things end the way they do. Other than some bad lighting, a bit of bad framing, and a not so great teen actors, I think that’s all I could possibly complain about. At the end of the day, the film is worth giving a chance simply to experience the unique twist they provided on a relatively well known genre.
Movie title: Dress Code
Movie description: Bobby Russo was born into a life of organized crime. From early on, he learned many lessons from his family including: Loyalty, Respect, and Honor. He learned secrets can be dangerous. All grown up, Bobby now realizes that the most dangerous secrets are his own.
Director(s): Joseph Pupello
Actor(s): Gerard Garilli, Freddie Maas, Frank Osso, Maria Marinaro, Alex Di Trolio, Nicholas Giordano
White Knuckle Flick