James Tobak’s Fingers has an only-in-the-movies premise – a debt collector for his small-time mobster father aspires to be a classical pianist – yet through sheer force of filmmaking will, the director and star Harvey Keitel turn this somewhat ridiculous plot into a penetrating portrait of tortured, impotent masculinity and the foolishness of attempting to be something you’re not. Jimmy (Keitel) is a two-bit thug who roughs up lazy debtors by day and passionately tickles the ivories at night (or does he?), and just like his conflicted protagonist, Tobak’s mise-en-scène – defined by an interplay between light and dark, interiors and exteriors, and the Bach and ‘50s-era Bebop and R&B blasting from Jimmy’s portable radio – is defined by contrast. Jimmy yearns to leave behind crime for art, and thinks he discovers an opportunity to transcend his dingy, immoral life via a piano audition with his professional musician mother’s former manager. Unfortunately, his romantic pursuit of a woman named Carol (Tisa Farrow) ends only in disaster (during a tension-wracked scene in which Jim Brown teaches Jimmy a thing or two about virile machismo), and his piano dreams are, in typical noir fascination, shown to be nothing more than the dangerous illusions of a man who doesn’t know his rightful (lowly) place in life. It may have been forgotten amongst the era’s more notable NYC crime sagas (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver), but Tobak’s underappreciated 1978 neo-noir boasts a gritty splendor, and Keitel’s simmering volatility is a sight to behold – especially in the film’s mesmerizing final shot, which encapsulates all the dashed hopes and misery of its socially and emotionally trapped protagonist.