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Solid acting from the leads offsets slow pace in Asphalt City



Sean Penn, a distinguished actor with two Academy Awards, has collaborated with the accomplished under-thirty performer Tye Sheridan to star in the gritty drama "Asphalt City," produced by Roadside Attractions and Vertical. Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire directs the film from a screenplay by Ryan King and Ben Mac Brown in the 2008 novel "Black Flies" by Shannon Burk.


Ollie Cross (Sheridan) is a young paramedic assigned to the NYC night shift with an uncompromising and seasoned partner, Gene Rutkovsky (Penn). The nights reveal a city in crisis; Rutkovsky guides Cross, as each 911 call is often dangerous and uncertain, putting their lives on the line daily to help others. Cross soon discovers firsthand the chaos and awe of a job that careens from harrowing to heartfelt, testing his relationship with Rutkovsky and the ethical ambiguity that can be the difference between life and death.


Upon viewing "Asphalt City," I was uncertain what to expect. While visually enticing, the trailer failed to pique my interest due to its resemblance to Martin Scorsese's misunderstood 1999 film, "Bringing Out the Dead" - a notion that prompted me to suspect a low-budget production. While there may be some comparisons between the two works, they are, in essence, vastly different. It is important to note that "Asphalt City" may not satisfy viewers seeking an exhilarating experience. Therefore, I am obliged to caution prospective audiences accordingly.


The portrayal of Ollie Cross by Tye Sheridan in the film is both vulnerable and resilient, effectively capturing the character's journey from a wide-eyed newcomer to a seasoned paramedic navigating the chaotic streets of New York City. Sean Penn, who plays Gene Rutkovsky, delivers an intense and commanding performance, embodying the grizzled veteran who has witnessed it all and is determined to impart wisdom to his young partner. Although the supporting cast, including Mike Tyson as the duo's boss, has no standout moments, Tyson deserves credit for a solid performance.


The movie adeptly weaves together moments of believable paramedic scenes with poignant and emotional sequences that emphasize the humanity and compassion at the core of these paramedics' work. The dynamic between Cross and Rutkovsky is multifaceted and continuously evolving as they navigate not only the physical hazards of their job but also the moral dilemmas that arise in the heat of the moment.


However, the film's pacing was a bit off-putting, and I can see some viewers having issues with it. Nevertheless, fans of the two leads should give it a look.


Final Grade: B-


"Asphalt City" opens in theaters today.

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