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Directed by: Sidney Lumet

Starring: Sharon Stone, Jean-Luke Figueroa

Rated: R

Before Kevin Smith wowed critics with his no-budget comedy, "Clerks," before Tarantino gave us "Reservoir Dogs," even before Martin Scorsese's "Mean Streets," the "independent" film movement had John Cassavetes.

Until his death in 1989, Cassavetes continued working in mainstream movies while writing and directing his own films.

Cassavetes' wife, actress Gena Rowlands, was a mainstay of his movies and is still widely regarded as one of the finest actresses working today. Her tour-de-force was "A Woman Under the Influence," but "Gloria" released in 1980 was also a high point.

In that film she plays a not-the-most-pleasant neighbor who comes over to borrow a cup of sugar and leaves with an orphaned child. The kid has a notebook given to him by his dad, an accountant for the mob, and a lot of people are trying to get their hands on it. Gloria and the kid go on the lam as she's forced to re-evaluate some of her strongest beliefs, mostly the fact that she "doesn't like kids."

Veteran director Sidney Lumet ("Twelve Angry Men," "Dog Day Afternoon," "Prince of the City") has updated the story, and only a few of the details have been changed. For one thing, Gloria in this go-round is just being released from prison where she took the rap for her mobster boyfriend, Kevin. The notebook is now, of course, a computer disk, and despite three years of hard time, Gloria's hair is in a perfect curly coif.

Sharon Stone takes on the title role here, and I must admit that it's sometimes easy to dismiss her as just another pretty-face, perfect-body movie star. But as she proved in Scorsese's "Casino," she's an actress to be reckoned with.

She's in virtually every scene of "Gloria," speaking with a tough-gal New York accent, and is not only credible but enjoyable, as well. Filling Gena Rowlands' shoes is no easy task, but Stone is up to the challenge, and under Lumet's direction she turns in the deepest performance of her career.

Upon her release from prison, Gloria goes to see her boyfriend Kevin to collect the money he owes her. She's going to get her life together and make a new beginning. A couple of problems arise. First, her boyfriend won't give her any money, and second, he's about to execute an asthmatic little kid whose family has just been wiped out by one of Kevin's trigger-happy henchmen. The kid's dad ran the books for Kevin's operation, and information contained on a floppy disk could send a lot of people to jail.

Gloria identifies with the youngster as someone who is caught up in something he really is no part of, and she snatches the kid to save his life.

Kevin and his hoods are in hot pursuit as Gloria and the kid run around Manhattan looking for a way, any way, out of the situation. As the film progresses, we can see Gloria warming up to the thought of having a child. She sees a lot of herself in the kid, and despite her tough exterior she's a really "good" person.

Stone's performance is endearing and the kid, played by young Jean-Luke Figueroa, will have you in his corner from frame one.

If you're interested in the real thing, all of Cassavetes' films are available on video, and I'd suggest starting with "A Woman Under the Influence," the original "Gloria" or "Minnie and Moskowitz."

(Jim Wunderle works at Associated Video Producers and is a Springfield free-lance writer and musician.)

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