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Movie Review: 'Asphalt City' Starring Sean Penn

If you love unending gloom and misery, Asphalt City is the movie for you.

By Sean PatrickPublished 18 days ago 4 min read

Asphalt City (2024)

Directed by Jean Stephane Sauvaire

Written by Ryan King, Ben Mac Brown

Starring Tye Sheridan, Sean Penn, Mike Tyson, Kali Reis, Michael Pitt

Release Date March 29th, 2024

Published March 28th, 2024

Asphalt City is the kind movie that mistakes wallowing in misery for drama. The film about a rookie EMT in New York City wallows in the bleak misery of suffering that, I am sure, will feel like gritty drama to some but felt punishing for this critic. I don't mind a good wallow, I was a big fan of Scorsese's similarly themed Bringing Out the Dead years ago, but I have my limits and Asphalt City pushed well past my limit for desolation that borders on post-apocalyptic. I realize New York City can be an angry and dark place but this borders on pornographic in terms of misery.

Asphalt City stars Tye Sheridan as Ollie Cross a wide-eyed medical student whose paying his way through med-school by working as an EMT in New York City. Struggling with a terrible partner who hates rookies, Cross's spirits are buoyed when he's reassigned to work with an aging veteran, Gene 'Rut' Rutkovsky. Rut takes pity on the kid and sets about teaching him the job instead of just screaming orders at him. Where his previous partner, played by Michael Pitt, appeared intent on running Cross out of the job, Rut seems to take to being a mentor.

This doesn't however, give the movie a boost in terms of the pitch black ugliness at play. Even as Rut proves to be kind, the runs they make in their ambulance are unendingly grim. EMT's deal with a lot of horrors but Asphalt City makes the job appear like the seventh circle of hell at all times. It's to the point that I just can't believe anyone would be able to do this job and since we have EMT's currently working in New York City, I can only imagine that they have found some way to preserve their mental health. This movie makes being an EMT akin to trying to survive Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

The makers of Asphalt City seem to revel in presenting one human tragedy after another while rarely finding moments to present a counterpoint of any kind. It's an artlessly ugly and relentless series of bleak and bloody scenes where no light can seem to escape. Trapped in the mire of this mess is Sheridan's lead performance. This terrific young actor is stuck in the mud of a movie that mistakes unending misery for gritty realism and the result is Sheridan's good work being lost in the morass of misery on display.

The same could be said of Sean Penn except that he seems perfectly at home being constantly miserable. I cannot remember the last time I saw Penn enjoy something he did on screen. I realize the world can be an awful, ugly, terrible place, but Sean Penn looks as if he were allergic to joy. His performance is listless, exhausted, and genuinely unpleasant. His arc is giving up on all possibility of goodness in the world and, well, they could not have picked an actor to enact unending misery as well as Sean Penn does.

If a slog or relentless sadness is what brings you to the movies, Asphalt City is the movie for you. We've got dying babies and their mothers on heroin covered in blood, we've got stock gangsters brutally murdering a dog, and decaying corpses being used as a form of hazing for the new guy. Truly, Asphalt City is the most fun you can have if your idea of fun is If that's not for you, Asphalt City is likely not for you either.

Find my archive of more than 20 years and nearly 2000 movie reviews at Find my modern review archive on my Vocal Profile, linked here. Follow me on Twitter at PodcastSean. Follow the archive blog on Twitter at SeanattheMovies. Listen to me talk about movies on the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast. If you have enjoyed what you have read, consider subscribing to my writing here on Vocal. If you'd like to support my writing, you can do so by making a monthly pledge or by leaving a one time tip. Thanks!


About the Creator

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast I am a voting member of the Critics Choice Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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