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Illtown, directed by Nick Gomez (Laws of Gravity, New Jersey Drive) is a powerful film. Take a tough-guy, drug dealing, buddy movie and remove the one-dimensional tough guys, the cinema verite style, the endless Tarantino-esque dialogue and take the whole plot out of NYC. Illtown manages all this with aplomb. This movie is racked with surprises. It is set in Florida, has a phenomenal ensemble cast, a rich and moody soundtrack, dreamy images that dissolve into each other, and tangible, multi-layered friendships. The plot follows three mid-management smack dealers Dante (Michael Rapaport), his wife Micky (the incomparable Lili Taylor) and Cisco (Kevin Corigan) as they seem to cruise seamlessly through their middle-class, drug dealing lifestyle. Everything is turned on its head when Dante and Micky's former partner Gabriel (Adam Trese) descends upon their lives with a horrifying spree of vengeance.

The cast is simply stellar. Rapaport (Zebrahead,True Romance, Poetic Justice, Mighty Aphrodite, Copland) provides an evocative performance, possibly his best yet. Taylor, Corrigan and Trese give arresting performances and Tony Danza has a bright cameo as a gay drug Kingpin with a green thumb and serene demeanor.The film's eerie surrealist atmosphere has a vicious edge. Violence springs up out of nowhere and creates a tension that stays with you even after the lights are up. Gabriel dismantles the ordered life of his ex-partners with an arsenal of teens trained to kill. Some of the most potent and unforgettable violence is enabled by these sweet-faced young men (local non-actors Gomez uncovered).

Writer/director Gomez has recently been the featured director of the NBC series "Homicide" and worked on the HBO series "OZ." His first two films made a good splash, but Gomez reaches new creative heights with Illtown. It feels as if he's floated right off his solid socio-realist moorings and into a magical realm with this film.

Ultimately, Illtown is not about drugs and money but about saving your soul. The graffiti on the walls of an abandoned building at the beginning of the movie echoes throughout Illtown. "The love that never dies" refers less to heroine than to the actual relationships that twist through the story and enrich the plot.

--Caitlin Roper