“Asphalt City” (originally titled Black Flies) is an American film based on Shannon Burke’s novel. It revolves around the grim lives of paramedics in New York. The film follows a rookie FDNY paramedic who starts working with his senior partner and learns the ropes of their dangerous job. We see several life-and-death instances in their professional life and the way they deal with the stress and pressure of their duties. The film stars Tye Sheridan (Ready Player One, Mud) and Sean Penn (Milk, Mystic River) in the central roles. Besides them, it also stars Gbenga Akinnagbe, Raquel Nave, Kali Reis, Michael Pitt, Katherine Waterston, and Mike Tyson.

Spoilers Ahead

Asphalt City (2023) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:

What is ‘Asphalt City’ about?

“Asphalt City” is about a group of paramedics who lead risky lives during their duty in New York. It follows a young, newly recruited paramedic who tries to learn the ways of his new job from a veteran in this profession. With the old man, he encounters several instances that shake him to his core and veer him toward a nihilistic mental state. Filled with graphic footage of blood and violence, the film is a dark look into the underbelly of this popular city.

What happens in ‘Asphalt City’?

“Asphalt City” primarily follows Ollie Cross (Tye Sheridan), a young and newly appointed paramedic in their New York department. He hopes to pass the Medical College Admission Test and become a doctor. At his present job, he works with a veteran paramedic, Gene Rutkovsky (Sean Penn). We see them deal with different challenging situations daily. For Olli, Gene is like a wise guide, whereas Lafontaine (Michael Pitt) is a nihilistic bully he hopes to avoid for the most part.

With Gene, Ollie gets in an ambulance and tries to save a heavily bleeding man. Unfortunately, the patient loses his life. Ollie goes back to his local place of stay, which he shares with three other people. By doing this, he hopes to save as much money as he can for his future. At a later job, Gene tries to save a wounded kid while Ollie tries to keep an agitated man under control. He sees a scared dog and tries to save its life. But a gangster shoots it without any remorse.

Why does Ollie get angry and Lafontaine?

After his encounter with the criminals, Ollie returns to his department office. He opens his locker to find the dead dog’s body lying inside. Ollie immediately realizes that Lafontaine did this and goes out to confront him. They get into a fight that Chief Burroughs (Mike Tyson) comes to resolve. Annoyed by Lanfotaine’s behavior, he goes to a club to release his stress. That’s where he bumps into Clara (Raquel Nave), a single mother with a young child.

At his job, Ollie needs to deal with all sorts of people who aren’t always in the right state of mind. They sometimes abuse or insult him while he tries to help them to the best of his ability. While trying to stay sane through this stressful job, he prepares for his next MCAT exams. One night, he opens up to Gene about his experience of seeing a deceased patient taking their last breath. He recalls his mother’s death when he couldn’t save her. Gene believes that is what made Ollie pursue this profession.

What does Ollie learn from Gene?

Asphalt City (2023) Movie Ending Explained
A still from “Asphalt City” (2023)

Ollie starts spending some nights at Clara’s place. He occasionally spends time with her and her baby. During days, he deals with people from all walks of life. Gene advises him to have a stoic approach. They develop a friendly bond in no time. Later, he meets Gene’s recent ex-wife, Nancy (Katherine Waterston), and their daughter. Gene adores his daughter but is bitter about the fact that his wife is dating another man. While speaking with Ollie, he recalls that he used to work two jobs. Due to the extreme physical and mental labor, he used to just crash on his bed after work.

Later on, Gene and Ollie go for another emergency of an injured woman. A man opens the door. Since she can speak only Russian, the man translates what she says. Gene figures out that the man has assaulted her. He loses his calm and fights with him. When the cops come to arrest the assaulter, Gene also hurts him. So, at the office, the Chief questions Gene about his behavior. Like Gene, the work starts taking a toll on Ollie. He sees gruesome deaths and bloodbaths every other day. Lafontaine doesn’t help him, either. Instead, he keeps pushing Ollie’s buttons.

Why does Gene face difficulty at his job?

As Ollie spends more time at the job, he gets angrier by the sheer amount of horror he needs to witness every day. It also breaks his concentration on his test preparations. One day, Gene takes him to a case of a mother and a child. They enter her apartment to find her bed filled with blood and her fetus outside. Ollie helps the mother, Nia Brown (Kali Reis), while Gene looks after the baby. They both learn that Nia is HIV positive. Moments later, Gene declares that the baby is dead. With Ollie, he takes Nia to the hospital. While Ollie shares her details with the hospital staff, Gene learns that the baby is alive. Due to Gene’s incorrect call, he faces action from the senior board.

Asphalt City (2023) Movie Ending Explained:

What happens to Gene Rutkovsky in the end?

After Gene is suspended, Ollie gets questioned by their senior officers. Ollie says he trusted Gene, a veteran paramedic, with caring for the baby while he helped the mother. The officers ask if Gene purposefully withheld treatment for the baby. Ollie denies that accusation and thinks he protected Gene by doing so. Gene shuts him up. This ordeal badly impacts Ollie’s mental health. On top of that, Lafontaine makes him even more miserable. So, while in bed with Clara, he almost chokes her. She saves herself and throws him out of her house.

Later, frustrated, Ollie throws all his stuff out of his apartment. He tries to get in touch with Gene. Upon meeting, Gene claims that he did not make a mistake. He chose not to treat the baby, seeing the state Nia was in and her HIV-positive diagnosis. So, he did what he thought was right. He and Ollie get into a heated debate about their choice of action and the underlying cowardice. Later, Ollie gets back to his work, whereas Gene leaves his job instead of choosing an administrative role. Soon after, Ollie finds out that Gene killed himself.

What happens to Ollie after Gene’s death?

Gene’s death wrecks Ollie’s mental state. He finds it hard to process his difficult emotions and also contemplates suicide. But, instead, he decides to meet Nia. By then, she had heard about Gene’s actions. She asks him about the old man. Ollie reveals that Gene killed himself. They both get emotional thinking about the incident that made them cross paths. After this stirring conversation, Ollie returns to his job in the FDNY. One day, he saves a young child from a site of crisis and takes her to a hospital. Her mother thanks him for his work. Presumably, he keeps working at the department for a longer time.

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Asphalt City (2023) Movie Trailer


Asphalt City (2023) Movie Links: IMDb, Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes, Letterboxd
Asphalt City (2023) Movie Cast: Sean Penn, Tye Sheridan, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Raquel Nave, Kali Reis, Michael Pitt, Katherine Waterston, Mike Tyson
Asphalt City (2023) Movie Genre: Mystery & Thriller/Drama | Runtime: 2 hr. 5 min.
Where to watch Asphalt City

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