Documentary Review: ‘Wasted Talent’

Greetings again from the darkness. The first thing to note here is that the title refers to a young actor who scuttled his career through drug addiction – an addiction which ultimately led to a burglary that ended in tragedy and a prison sentence. What the title doesn’t refer to is the police officer who was killed by the actor’s associate during that attempted burglary. In my opinion, what was wasted was that officer’s life, so no matter how talented and charming and rehabilitated one might find Lillo Brancato, my sympathies were with that police officer’s family the entire run time … not a possible squandered Golden Globe.

The goal here is to set aside personal opinion, and evaluate this documentary from director Steve Stanulis on merit. The subject is Lillo Brancato, the young man “discovered” to star alongside Robert De Niro in A BRONX TALE, the 1993 film that was also De Niro’s directorial debut. Mr. Stanulis, himself an actor and filmmaker, has a good grasp of the industry and wisely puts Mr. Brancato front and center so he can tell much of his own story. Lillo recalls in great detail the events that led to his being cast in his first movie, and getting to meet Chaz (Palminteri) and “Bob” (De Niro). He was basically plucked off the beach due to his facial similarities to De Niro, and then proceeded to wow the filmmakers with his natural acting ability. He’s also very forthcoming about his drug use (a crack pipe in a car), his ongoing commitment to staying clean in the program, and his desire to continue acting.

Other interviews include journalists, Lillo’s “super” attorney Joseph Tacopina (a likely documentary subject himself), other actors including Lillo’s friend and co-star from “The Sopranos” Drea De Matteo, Lillo’s brother, former NBA player Jayson Williams, and even clips from the District Attorney at the time the case was at trial. Director Stanulis also interviews local cops who make it very clear that the police force remain mad at Lillo, and view him as a privileged kid who wasn’t held accountable for the death of one of their own. See, Lillo’s friend shot Officer Daniel Enchautegui, and Lillo was charged only with the 2005 burglary, while his friend went to prison for murder. So no, the cops don’t believe justice was served.

There are some attempts to couch this as a young guy from the neighborhood making it big and not being able to handle fame and money. Once again, it’s difficult to muster sympathy for someone in this situation. It does help that Lillo is so direct about staying clean and sober since November 2006, being released from prison in 2013, and resuming his acting in 2015. He also admits to not heeding the advice from either De Niro or James Gandolfini, both who recognized the dangerous path the young man was on. Fortunately for Lillo, his second chance comes at a time when he’s still young enough to enjoy. Sadly, there are no second chances for the officer that was killed that day.

November 13 release on demand.

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