Asphalt City (2024) Second Opinion Movie Review – A dark and depressing journey into urban city hell

A dark and depressing journey into urban city hell

Asphalt City made its debut at Cannes in 2023 under its alternative title, Black Flies. In April 2024, the movie was released onto the Prime Video streaming service.

We reviewed the movie back in 2023 and gave it a largely negative review. You can read that review here. 

Of course, we all have our own opinions, so there may be some who like the movie more than our original reviewer did. The following review is more positive – reflective of my personal thoughts on the movie.

But do you think Asphalt City (Black Flies) is a good movie? Or do you agree with the earlier review? Healthy debate is always enjoyable so do leave us your comments below.

Asphalt City (Second Opinion Review)

Asphalt City stars Tye Sheridan as Ollie Cross, a young man with hopes of proving himself a  saviour after taking up a job as a paramedic. 

Ollie is partnered with Gene Rutkovsky (Sean Penn), an uncompromising and seasoned medical professional, who takes the young man under his wing. Together, they drive around the streets of New York City at night, taking calls and dealing with patients, while trying to protect themselves both mentally and physically from the dangers that greet them.

The movie begins with Ollie’s first night on the job. His inexperience clearly shows when he inwardly panics when trying to help his colleagues save a gunshot victim. His inability to perform is a frustration to one paramedic, Lafontaine (Michael Pitt), who calls on Gene to help while Ollie struggles to keep it together. 

It’s a bad first night for Ollie and this is just the start of a run of bad nights for the young rookie. Despite walking around the streets in the daytime in an angel jacket – symbolic of the saviour figure that he wants to be – he soon discovers that he can’t save everybody when he carries out his shifts. 

Asphalt City, directed by Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire (A Prayer Before Dawn), is reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out The Dead, another movie that presented the grim reality of a paramedic’s life. Like Nicolas Cage’s character in that critically acclaimed drama, Ollie becomes haunted by what he sees and experiences on the streets of New York, and he struggles to maintain his sanity. 

On his travels, Ollie meets wife beaters, drug addicts, gang members, and the mentally unwell. He faces the barrel of a gun, the screams of patients’ families, and a rotting body that he discovers in a bathtub. He explores the dark underbelly of New York and discovers the worst of humanity. This is his own personal hell where there is little hope of finding salvation.

Sauvaire’s movie is believably bleak, which should give us cause to be thankful for the real-life paramedics who put themselves on the line in dangerous parts of urban cities. Asphalt City is uncomfortable to sit through as a consequence, as we see first-hand the depravity and squalor that Ollie encounters. However, it’s hard to tear our eyes away as the director’s camera is constantly moving, propelling us along Ollie’s journey as he experiences one horrible moment after another in rapid succession. 

Both Tye Sheridan and Sean Penn are terrific in their roles. Sheridan ably shows the mental pressure that his character is under, with a face that becomes increasingly weary as the movie goes on. Penn’s face already exhibits world-weariness, a result of his character’s long time on the job. Together, both actors draw us into their characters’ world and make us glad that we’re not a part of it.

Not all of the movie’s players are capable actors, however. We’re referring specifically to Mike Tyson, who stars in the film as Chief Burroughs, the man who manages Gene and Ollie. Like Connor McGregor before him, who gave a cringeworthy performance in Road House, Tyson proves that it’s not always wise for a fighter to attempt a career change. Mercifully, he’s not on screen for long, so despite his acting inexperience, he doesn’t drag the film down with his poor line delivery. 

More capable is Michael Pitt (The Dreamers) as Lafontaine, a paramedic who is the antithesis of Sheridan’s character. Whereas Ollie operates on the side of angels, Lafontaine seems to lie on the side of the devil. His love of heavy metal music is symbolic of this, as is his tendency to torment Ollie and behave unethically while on the job. He’s an unpleasant character that adds to the nightmarish experience that Ollie endures.

While Pitt is a very capable actor, it’s a pity that his character was introduced into the movie. While I can understand the writer’s decision to include a figure that juxtaposes with Ollie’s saintly goodness, he doesn’t always add much to the film.

The story is already laced with darkness and squalor due to the traumatising sights and sounds of NYC’s dingier side, so we didn’t need more inhumanity pushed into our faces via Lafontaine. Ollie didn’t need it either. This isn’t to knock Pitt’s performance, however, which is as good as expected from an actor of his calibre. 

Asphalt City is not a movie that promises you an evening’s worth of entertainment. Its dark tone reflects the darkness residing in the poverty-stricken streets of New York City. There’s one humourous moment inside a laundrette when an intoxicated woman pretends to be a police officer. But even that moment is offset by the tragedy of her situation, which is as dire and broken as the other people that Ollie and Gene come across during their nightly shifts.

Happiness is in short supply here. But Asphalt City is still a good film. It’s not as powerful as Bringing Out The Dead but it’s visually similar at times as Sauvaire takes his audience along on a figurative journey into hell. You’ll need to get a shower as soon as the closing credits start to roll, but that won’t be enough to rid your mind of the horrors that you have just witnessed on screen.


Read More: Black Flies Ending Explained

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  • Verdict - 7/10

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