Film note: Overwhelming “Noise”


Incessant car alarms. Ear-piercing garbage trucks at all hours of the day. A child crying. A public dispute involving an unhappy couple, followed by NYPD sirens coming to the rescue. These are the sounds of New York City. This is the Noise that drives everyman David Owen (a showcase role for Oscar winner Tim Robbins) to start fighting back against the streets of Manhattan and all the chaotic sounds they produce.

Noise is screening as part of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival on April 21 and 22 at St. Anthony Main, Minneapolis. For information and tickets ($9), see

Owen is an extremely quiet man, living as quiet as possible a life on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He tucks his daughter in bed every night with a story. His wife plays the cello in the living room while he reads psychology books. He tries to exist in a low-key, pleasant state of mind while residing amongst the plethora of loud interruptions New York City delivers every minute of every day.

To rate and comment on Noise and every other film in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, see

However, Owen isn’t playing the victim. He’s fighting back. As the film begins, we learn that he’s been retaliating for quite some time—on his own, lurking the city streets at 4 a.m., physically defacing any property that’s producing noise he can’t handle. Slashing tires, smashing windows, prying open hoods and pulling every plug, Owen is on a mission to make the noise stop.

When he loses his temper and has an altercation with the cops, Owen is arrested and begins to be noticed. Fellow residents start to rally behind his cause, and a petition to recognize noise as a form of assault and battery gets 40,000 signatures. However, the mayor (William Hurt, in a typically curmudgeon-esque role) won’t tolerate such action, and the battle of the wills between these two men leads to quite an interesting climax.

Henry Bean directs the film with gritty, intimate eyes into the world of New York City. The noise reaches such a high level that Bean is able to create a powerful contrast between the loud city and the quiet rage building inside Owen’s mind. The minimal dialogue allows the sounds of the city to take on a character of their own. Bean has created a film that truly is a call for the common man to get up from his chair and start fighting back against the things that aren’t right. In one great moment, while attending his daughter’s soccer game, Owen hounds a rude woman talking loudly on her cell phone. How many of us have wanted to confront someone in that situation? Watch the film, and Owen’s character will provide plenty of pointers.

As a former New York resident, I found the film particularly engaging—not just for its on-location photography (evident in the authentic street scenes throughout the film), but because it reminded me of the chaos one must deal with as a New Yorker and the way one has to sacrifice some peace of mind in order to handle it all.

I recall one day when I was walking down the street in Midtown. Construction workers above me, a tow truck down the block, a car alarm, a dump truck…it all happened at once, and I had to stop dead in my track to breathe, calm down, and collect my thoughts. The noise was that overwhelming. Had I seen Bean’s compelling film prior to that moment, I just might have had the guts to do something more about it.

Stephen Sporer works at Macalester College in St. Paul and has reviewed films for KTFM, San Antonio’s most popular radio station. He recently moved to the Twin Cities from New York, where he studied theater at Sarah Lawrence College as well as acting and singing at a wide range of venues.