Skip to main content
The Independent Critic

Family and friends of Nicky O'Neill
Christian de Rezendes
117 Mins.

 "41" Review 
In February of 2003, a fire swept through the Station Nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island. One of the worst nightclub fires in American history, the tragedy claimed 100 lives and traumatized many in the small state of Rhode Island. 41 is about the youngest of the victims of the devastating Station Nightclub fire, aspiring musician Nicky O'Neill.

Reminiscent of Kurt Kuenne's outstanding documentary Dear Zachary, 41 is a breathtaking and often inspirational film that captures a life seemingly lived out on film from Nicky's youngest days. A collaboration between Rhode Island filmmaker Christian de Rezendes and Nicky's elder brother, Christian O'Neill, 41 utilizes an abundance of family video footage, photographs, news clips and interviews with Nicky's friends and peers to paint a balanced yet poignant portrait of a young man simultaneously misunderstood, celebrated and deeply loved.

41 is a profoundly moving documenting of the fullness that was, and in many ways remains, the life of Nicky O'Neill. Nicky lived his life with an exuberance and originality not always embraced in his small Rhode Island town, but his lifelong impact on his family and friends is undeniable and 41 honestly reveals both sides of the young man -

Nicky was, at times, labeled a problem student and once received a grade of F- in an English class ...

He received permission from school administrators to drop out of school, and ...

Despite possessing unquestionable talent, Nicky's reliability in actually showing up was often questioned .

 Yet, there was the side of Nicky that seemingly captivated everyone he encountered. Nicky was known for his extraordinary compassion, especially with those who had experienced personal tragedies. Despite having received an F- in an English class, Nicky was an extraordinary songwriter and, as would be evidenced posthumously, a promising playwright. Nicky seemed to have a positive influence upon all those who surround him, most of whom recall him as intelligent, caring, funny and immensely talented.

As a mere elegy for Nicky O'Neill, 41 would be an exceptional documentary. Yet, 41 far transcends simply being a memorial and, as well, simply being a documentary by examining the world of Nicky after he has, at least physically, left his earthly existence. It is in the film's second half that de Rezendes and O'Neill begin revealing Nicky's mysterious connection to the number 41, along with the number's strange and increasingly dominant presence in the lives of those who've survived Nicky. It all began shortly after the fire and, in fact, even before Nicky's body had been found when his father received a phone call from his son's cell phone. It was in that moment that his father knew that his son's body would be found later that day, and he believed that, perhaps, the cell phone ringing was merely rescuers having found the phone and checking it for identifiers. When Nicky was finally found, his only personal possession found was his cell phone ... destroyed beyond possible use due to water damage in the fire. These types of mysterious "coincidences" have continued for Nicky's family and friends, many of which will be dismissed by naysayers but their abundance and significance are compellingly constructed in 41.

De Rezendes became involved with this story rather indirectly when he received the opportunity to film Night of the Angels, marking the tragedy's one-year anniversary and the discovery of a rather profound and prophetic one-act play penned by Nicky shortly before his death called They Walk Among Us, a play about intolerance incorporating a tremendous amount of spiritual and social themes.

Originally intended as a short film, de Rezendes' lengthy involvement in the project eventually led to 41 becoming a full-length feature documentary due to the abundance and depth of the material discovered. It is brought powerfully and unforgettably to life, mostly owing to the vulnerability of Christian O'Neill and the ability of de Rezendes to capture his interview subjects in a way that is relaxed and authentic. De Rezendes and O'Neill perfectly intertwine the film's utilization of video footage with news footage and, as well, with interviews that never appear dry nor rote.

41 is now available on DVD. For more information on 41, visit the 41 website.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic