City Hall (1996 film)

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City Hall
City hall ver1.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byHarold Becker
Produced by
Written by
Music byJerry Goldsmith
CinematographyMichael Seresin
Edited by
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • February 16, 1996 (1996-02-16)
Running time
111 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$33.4 million[1]

City Hall is a 1996 American suspense drama film directed by Harold Becker and starring Al Pacino, John Cusack, Bridget Fonda and Danny Aiello.[2] The film was Becker's second collaboration with Pacino, having directed him in Sea of Love (1989).


In New York City, Detective Eddie Santos and mob figure Tino Zapatti kill each other in a shootout; a stray bullet also kills a child passing by. In the wake of the tragedy, questions are raised as to why Judge Walter Stern, an old friend of the ambitious Mayor John Pappas, had previously set the criminal responsible free on probation. Pappas' loyal deputy mayor, Kevin Calhoun, decides to dig for answers. Meanwhile, legal aid Marybeth Cogan uncovers a conspiracy to smear Santos.

Calhoun's investigation leads to Frank Anselmo, a Brooklyn politician who has connections to Tino's uncle, crime boss Paul Zapatti. Anselmo plants money at Zapatti's behest to frame Santos. Calhoun and Cogan continue to seek the truth from a number of sources, including Santos' partner and another Zapatti relative. After the murder of probation officer Larry Schwartz, they ultimately conclude that Judge Stern had to be on the take. Pappas agrees that Stern must resign.

The scandal snowballs to the point where Zapatti instructs Anselmo to commit suicide rather than become an informer or go to jail. To protect his family, Anselmo shoots himself. Calhoun uncovers evidence that Pappas put Stern together with Anselmo to receive a bribe and leave the young Zapatti on the street. Calhoun soon tells Pappas there is only one choice—to quit as mayor and leave politics for good. ("You're gonna take yourself out, John. You're gonna take yourself out.")


Fritz Hollings, Senator from South Carolina at the time, had a cameo as Senator Marquand, a Southern senator whom Pappas attempts to woo in order to land the Democratic convention.


A key concept in the film is the Yiddish word Menschkeit, which Mayor Pappas defines as something "about honor and character" and "the space between a handshake." Mayor Pappas is always making deals, and the question becomes whether he can retain his honor in a world of political deal-making. A deal to fund a subway station serving a new financial center is honorable because the station will make the developers of, and workers at, the center better off, and their taxes will ultimately pay for it. The deal Pappas makes with known Mafiosi to persuade a judge to reduce a prison sentence isn't honorable because Mafiosi are not honorable. Calhoun holds Pappas accountable for breaching his own moral code, but does it with deep personal sympathy and respect, that is as a mensch.[3][4]


City Hall ranks 56% at Rotten Tomatoes based on 25 reviews.[5] Roger Ebert gave the film a two and a half star and wrote, "Many of the parts of City Hall are so good that the whole should add up to more, but it doesn't."[6]

Box office[edit]

The film was released on February 16, 1996 in 1,815 theatres. It debuted at number 4 at the United States box office, grossing $8 million.[7] For its second weekend, it landed at number 6, grossing $13.8 million. The film grossed $20.3 million in the U.S. and Canada[8] and $13.1 million internationally for a worldwide total of $33.4 million.[1]


  1. ^ a b "Top 100 Worldwide B.O. Champs". Variety. January 20, 1997. p. 14.
  2. ^ Maslin, Janet (February 16, 1996). "City Hall (1996) FILM REVIEW; Dangerous Dealings In the Heart of New York". The New York Times.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Sandford Borins, Governing Fables: Learning from Public Sector Narratives, pp. 150-152,
  5. ^ City Hall at Rotten Tomatoes
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (1996-02-16). "City Hall". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2018-02-23 – via
  7. ^ Weekend Box Office : It's a Bull's-Eye for 'Broken Arrow' from Los Angeles Times, 21 February 1996, retrieved 7 September 2014
  8. ^ "City Hall". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2018-02-23.

External links[edit]