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Movie review: ‘Koch’

Posted 6:48am on Friday, May. 17, 2013

Unrated; 100 min.

What an entertaining rapscallion Ed Koch was during his run as mayor of New York in the late ’70s and ’80s. Popular, polarizing, loved, hated, even 20-plus years after he left office, he never failed to attract a crowd as he walked the streets of the city. Which he did virtually every day until he died at 88.

Neil Barsky’s excellent directing debut, simply titled Koch, finds the former mayor in that final year as feisty and brash as ever. And as entertaining. Though the film, more than two years in the making, was never intended as such, it plays like the kind of eulogy Koch would have approved — neither fawning nor eviscerating but always compelling.

Fundamentally, Barsky takes a fair measure of the man, more introspection than exposé. The appeal is in its crisp summation of a potent time in one of this country’s most distinctive political lives. The film hits the highs of Koch’s efforts to stave off bankruptcy for the city and end a transit strike, as well as the lows of the municipal corruption scandal that would end his dream of being a four-term mayor, all neatly packed into a very tight hour and a half.

If you’re wondering if Barsky gets Koch to answer the one question that dogged him from his earliest days — was he gay? — he remains just as tight-lipped as ever. That his first, and seemingly most enduring love, was for New York City was never in question.

Despite that one evasion, there is a remarkable candor as Koch reflects on his life and his legacy, quickly warming to the topic, clearly his favorite. The rarely censored and often acerbic thoughts that got him into trouble during his political heyday serve us well, a reminder of how refreshing such candor can be in contrast to the over-managed political discourse that dominates today.

Exclusive: Angelika Dallas

— Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times

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