“I do wish that the story would have been structured differently, […] but ultimately the film was quite a bit of fun.”
I’ve always enjoyed biographical films because they are able to not only be educational, but also entertaining; so when I heard about The Rat Pack I was pretty excited to see it. The Rat Pack follows Frank Sinatra (Ray Liotta), Sammy Davis Jr. (Don Cheadle), Dean Marin (Joe Mantegna), and Peter Lawford (Angus Macfadyen) during their days as ‘The Rat Pack’, but specifically during the time of the John F. Kennedy campaign. The film not only goes into the role that The Rat Pack (specifically Frank Sinatra) had on the Kennedy campaign, but it also delves into the relationship between the members.
The main issue that I had with The Rat Pack was the fact that the movie bit off more than it could chew. Instead of the movie just being about The Rat Pack’s members, it was decided that an overarching story was needed. This was fine, and the story about the relationship with Kennedy was actually very interesting, but the problem is that the movie didn’t give up the storyline about the members of The Rat Pack; so what we ended up getting was a combination of a very broad story about all of the embers, but then also a very specific story about the Kennedy campaign. These stories, while they happened at the same time, had almost nothing to do with one another so it didn’t make for the best narrative. Having two stories going at the same time was brilliant for the pacing, The Rat Pack’s two hour runtime just flew by, but the story structure was very messy. I think that there were two very good stories told in The Rat Pack, but I just wish that they were separate (which is the way that they were meant to be told). You could have had a great movie about the Kennedy campaign by chopping off thirty minutes, or you cold have had a wonderful movie about The Rat Pack if you just shifted the focus. Unfortunately what we got was a very messy combination of the two. All that being said I think that it was very interesting seeing this side of the group that many of us know and love, and for that I think the movie did succeed. There was also something else in The Rat Pack that really caught my attention, and that was the dream sequence centred around Sammy Davis Jr. Now this sequence didn’t fit in the movie at all, as a matter of fact it was pretty jarring to watch, but it exemplifies what this movie could have been. In this sequence we don’t see what Sammy Davis Jr. is doing, we see what he is feeling. This scene, although sorely out of place, is so powerful and such a good look at the character of Sammy Davis Jr. that it only increases my desire for the film to have been about the members of The Rat Pack, instead of a more focused story about the Kennedy campaign.
Part of what made The Rat Pack work so well was the film’s brilliant casting. The best example of this is easily Don Cheadle as Sammy Davis Jr., who brings such a weight to the performance. Not only do we get to see Sammy hang out with the guys, but we get a pretty good look at his inner emotions via many scenes much like the dream sequence that I described earlier. Seeing Sammy Davis Jr. essentially fight with himself about wether or not he is okay being the butt of the joke was really interesting, and Don Cheadle nailed that in his performance. You also have Ray Liotta as Frank Sinatra who was wonderful. Not only did he bear a really close resemblance to Sinatra, but his performance was great as usual. The one gripe that I would have with Liotta’s performance is the fact that whenever Frank Sinatra would laugh, it was impossible for me to see anyone but Ray Liotta. Liotta’s laugh is so iconic, even in appearance, that it would have been impossible to mask it for this performance. Everyone else did a great job, but Cheadle and Liotta were really the stand-outs. One thing that I do have to discuss is the fact that the singing in the film was impossible for me to buy. It doesn’t matter who was singing, it was painfully apparent to me that it was fake. Ray Liotta’s voice isn’t as deep as Sinatra’s, Don Cheadle is missing the signature Sammy Davis Jr. speech pattern, and Joe Mantegna didn’t look like he wanted to be there (which I guess fits the character of Dean Martin). This didn’t necessarily ruin the film for me, but I definitely kept getting taken out of the story whenever the group would break into song. Finally, I just couldn’t buy William Petersen as John F. Kennedy. Maybe it is due to the fact that I watched CSI religiously as a child, or maybe it is because Kennedy’s look is so iconic, but whatever it was it prevented me from seeing anyone other than William Petersen. Petersen’s performance wasn’t bad, although it did make being the President seem really easy, it was just the fact that I couldn’t for the life of me see him as John F. Kennedy.
Overall The Rat Pack was a pretty fun movie, and it was interesting to see a different side of the ridiculously famous group. I do wish that the story would have been structured differently, so instead of getting two simultaneous story we got one really strong story, but ultimately the film was quite a bit of fun.
I give The Rat Pack a B