Review: ‘Asphalt City’

Tye Sheridan And Sean Penn Take Viewers On An Unflinching Tour Of NYC Through The Eyes Of An EMT

On the list of underpaid professions, Teachers usually get the top mention. It’s not that they shouldn’t, but it should be a close second to if not tied with being a paramedic. We give doctors all of the credit but let’s be real, in a trauma situation it’s the EMT that’s going to save your life first. If they don’t do their job, you’re not making it to the doctor. Literally every day they are guaranteed to face life-or-death situations under the worst possible conditions. Jean-Stephane Sauvaire doesn’t just bring you into this world in his new film Asphalt City, but brings you into the toughest possible iteration…the night shift on NYC’s east side.

Ollie Cross (Tye Sheridan) is a young man making his way as a paramedic who’s been assigned to the night shift with tough veteran Gene Rutkovsky (the always sour Sean Penn). The film follows the pair as they navigate one of the most difficult and unforgiving beats an EMT can be assigned, rushing into danger and putting their lives at risk to save lives. The patients they encounter run the gamut, from asthma attacks to HIV Positive pregnant heroin addicts who shot up while giving birth (no exaggeration). Sauvaire, directing the film, based on the book by Shannon Burke, sugarcoats nothing and uses the film runtime to delve into stressors encountered by Cross and Rutkovsky as they continually march toward their breaking points and attempt to use their downtime to undo the damage done.

If the hope for this movie was to convey the broken world encountered by first responders and make you wonder how people can wake up and choose this profession every day, mission accomplished. Dour is not the word. Most films that want to show us, and thereby make us better appreciate, the people who exist in these arenas do so with a delicate balance of light and dark. Some films though, Asphalt City, for example, dive in head first and skate a line of nihilism from start to finish. Tye Sheridan, who has more then proven he has what it takes to exist among the A-List, provides an Ollie that’s more relatable than how the character was likely written. On paper he would seem almost robotic, lost even. Going on shifts every day, seeing the worst that humanity has to offer then trying to distract himself from what he’s seen through constant sex with his girlfriend. Instead Sheridan keeps a glimmer of hope as a byproduct of drive, even in the worst moments you are aware of his want to help.

Sean Penn, on the other hand, fills the trope-filled role of the grizzled veteran who gives our protagonist a glimpse at the husk he could become. Penn’s abilities are beyond reproach, there’s no doubt there, but Asphalt City will not go down as one of his shining examples. It’s not that he’s bad, he’s just….uninspired. The rest of the cast, with names ranging from Michael Pitt and Katherine Waterson all the way to Mike Tyson (in another trope-filled role as “Angry Chief”) do their jobs ably but at the end of the day this is Sheridan and Penn’s movie with everyone else acting as glorified extras.

Asphalt City is open in theaters now.

review-asphalt-cityThis isn't a film that you're going to rewatch time and again, not is it a film that will sit up amongst the Taxi Driver's of the world at the top of the "darkly depressing but great" genre. This is a film, however, that deserves a watch. It's unflinching, unfiltered, view of what life is like for EMT's on the roughest beat possible will help to enhance your worldview. At a bare minimum, the film deserves to be watched out of respect for those of us that put their personal well-being, both physically and mentally, aside to do good and bring light to the darkest corners.