De Niro's bright directorial debut is a gangster movie with a difference - one with warmth and sensitivity. The vibrant voice-over narration and development of its young protagonist Calogero (a character based on Palminteri) provide it, against a traditionally colourful look at Italian American neighbourhood archetypes.
Taking place in 'The Bronx' of the 1960s, Palminteri's screenplay achieves the commendable feat of detailing a glamorous, sometimes humorous look at familiar gangster territory, without straining from the intimate coming of age story at its heart.
Among the many themes examined include the importance of friendship, loyalty towards family, and moral lessons of never wasting your talent and respecting others for who they are. Familiar stuff, but examined with a different kind of richness here.
First seen aged 9 (Francis Capra), the Yankee supporting 'C' takes us through a daily stroll of life in his neighbourhood and his early seduction by the lifestyle of his idol Sonny. To C, Sonny is a paragon of gangster glamour, with his fearful or loving (we're never sure) associates, sky blue Cadillac and the cool use of just three figures to make a point.
With Calogero appearing in virtually every scene, the depth he gives to his story is one to rival Henry Hill's in Goodfellas, though the two tales could hardly be any different. Calogero's focus is not on gaining power and joining the ranks of Mafiosos, but of growing up to learn some basic life lessons.
His moral growth is assisted by two contrasting father figures: his honest-working father, who is proud of driving a bus all day so his family is able to eat steak once a week, and the ready-made wealth of Sonny.
Initially, Calogero acts merely as a bystander, watching on outside his house whenever Sonny is around, imitating his every action as a way of gaining his attention. Nothing happens, Calogero tells us, until one day.
Sonny takes the kid under his wing, offering him a job throwing dice in crap games, for which he wins Sonny's crowd big money, and earns a share of it himself. Sonny understands the boy, respects him like an adult and talks to him without condescending.
The excellent screenplay by Chazz Palminteri provides the easiest possible platform for De Niro, who doesn't need to direct with the innovative intensity of his mentor Martin Scorsese, for the events detailed are simple enough to come vividly to life.
He only a similar rock n roll soundtrack, with the songs chosen shrewdly to comment on the action. His performance as Lorenzo is also a mature one, only once recalling his wise-guy roles of past, when he postures to his son over the concept of money.
Palminteri as Sonny manages to humanise an erratic, charismatic character that, in different hands, would not have worked. His story is clearly a labour of love, nostalgic without touching sentimentality, with infectious dialogue, fine set pieces, moral lessons and characters being served realistically by the story.
Passionate, warm, classical storytelling. What C calls "just another Bronx Tale" is a very special experience.