“Brooklyn Rules,” review by Susan Granger

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New York’s borough of Brooklyn – circa.1985 – is the setting for this story of friendship, loyalty and sacrifice.

The narrator, Michael (Freddie Prinze Jr.), an amiable con man, has scammed his way into the pre-law program at Columbia University. His intention is to get out of Brooklyn, leaving its mob violence behind forever. Not surprisingly, he ignites a romance with a classmate (Mena Suvari of “American Beauty”) whose social antecedents stretch from Manhattan’s Upper East Side to Connecticut.

But Michael’s two closest friends have their roots firmly planted. Vain, handsome Carmine (Scott Caan) is intrigued by the powerful Mafia lifestyle, particularly the patronage of Caesar Manganaro (Alec Baldwin), the ruthless wiseguy who controls their neighborhood. And pudgy Bobby (Jerry Ferrara of “Entourage”) is a devoutly religious yet dimwitted cheapskate who wants nothing more than to marry his fiancée and land a secure job as a postal clerk.

Written by three-time Emmy winner Terence Winter (“The Sopranos”), photographed by Richard P. Crudo and well-paced by director Michael Corrente (“Outside Providence,” “American Buffalo”), it exudes cultural authenticity and, surprisingly, heart. These flesh-and-blood men have been buddies since kindergarten and their evolving relationship, shown through flashbacks, propels the narrative.

One haunting childhood incident is particularly revealing of their priorities. As youngsters roaming the shoreline, they discover a car whose driver has been shot in the head; curious but not repelled, they each steal a souvenir. One takes the victim’s cigarettes and lighter from the dashboard, another gingerly lifts a handgun from the glove compartment, and the third totes home a beagle puppy from the back seat.

With a sensitive ensemble cast, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Brooklyn Rules” is an edgy, insightful 7 – with the subtle shadings of a watercolor.

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