A warts-and-all observation of the rise and fall of one of New York City’s most controversial Mayors, Neil Barsky’s well-paced documentary fills a necessary gap. Famous for contributing to the now-popular anti-union stance endorsed by nearly every regional politician in the country, Ed Koch is shown as a nebbish “liberal” Congressman who ran an improbably successful Mayoral campaign by standing in front of subway stations asking every passerby the nonsensical rhetorical question, “How am I doing?” Perhaps the film’s best side effect is its archive-footage depiction of New York City before corporations wiped out nearly every dive bar and mom & pop store and corner restaurant that once gave the city its vibrant character.
“Koch” gives equal attention to Ed Koch’s good and bad accomplishments during his 11-year reign as Mayor — 1978 to 1989. Koch’s housing renewal initiatives created jobs and housing opportunities. The blind eye that Koch turned to blacks and gays exposed a racist tendency and an element of self-loathing — it has long been widely speculated that Koch is gay. Certainly every politician is a hypocrite, and none more so than Ed Koch. “Koch” skews toward being a cinematic love-letter to its now-elderly subject before all is said and done. Nevertheless, it leaves plenty of space for the interested viewer to read between the lines.
Not Rated. 100 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)