Simmering undercurrents of dread and distrust drive this updated “Bonnie and Clyde” set in the dark inner city.
Charlie Rankin is getting out of prison. That is the good news. The bad news is that there is this voice in his head telling him that he must avenge the betrayal that put him there. Even worse, the voice is that of Willem Dafoe (“Shadow of the Vampire,” “Antichrist,” “Spiderman”), the one man you do not want inside your head as you are trying to get a night’s sleep.“It is bad enough, says Dafoe’s character, William "The Buddha" Pettigrew, that this man took away four years of your life and stole your money. But the worst thing is that he stole your trust. If you can’t trust someone, you ain’t got nutten.”
Or something to that effect.
Stephen Dorff (“World Trade Center,” “Covert One: The Hades Factor,” “.45”) plays ex-con Charlie Rankin, a driven man trying to do the right thing in spite of that voice. No sooner has he cleared the prison gates then he meets Florence Jane (Michelle Monaghan—“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” “Gone Baby Gone”), the ethereal, street smart woman who could be his salvation, or his ruin.
Charlie goes to his assigned destination, the seediest, most dangerous, scuzzy, dirty, filth infused bar in Cleveland and, as instructed, asks for a room. The bartender looks at him as if he were crazy. After all, the place is no Holiday Inn. We in the audience are a little perplexed as well. How did he get to this place? Well, okay, The Buddha told him to go there, so don’t ask any questions. The problem with this setup is that it continues throughout the film. Perhaps the director is trying to infuse a sense of abstract terror and obedience in us, but things seem to happen without connection.
On the one hand, this lends a sort of inner city chaos to the darkness in the film, which is good. There is too much noise in Charlie’s head, like a bad hangover coming out of nowhere. Too much information, like three 5G smart phones imbedded in your skull, all talking, flashing and beeping at once. Charlie is out of step with society. He has been betrayed and must have revenge, but, then, there is the sexual inadequacy. Will that go away when he kills the man who stole his trust? Will he get back his soul in the little blue bag that The Buddha has hidden for him in the locker at the bus station (when you find a bus station that still has lockers, you know you are in another universe).
The film has a sort of jerkiness that demands too much from the audience. It is as if the editor and the director fell asleep on the job and then decided to, well; just let the audience figure it out for themselves. Perhaps we are supposed to do the editing in our heads, but it does not make for a powerful presentation.
Michelle Monaghan does a good job channeling Sissy Spacek from “Coal Miner’s Daughter” mixed with Faye Dunaway from “Bonnie and Clyde,” but Dorff is far short of Warren Beatty’s Clyde. It might have been better if the screenplay steered clear of the sexual performance issue and gave Charlie some other issue to deal with. Charlie is beholding to The Buddha because The Buddha saved his life in prison. This would have added nicely tot her back story and perhaps given the viewer a better understanding of why Charlie is so enslaved to the mysterious puppeteer behind the scene.
Willem Dafoe is great, as usual, but makes very few appearances in the film. His character needs to stay in the background and be more of a spirit, or a curse, than a real character. However, when Dafoe does make his appearance, we want to see more of him, which is a bad thing for the two leads. It is the weak screenplay that is to blame. We want to see more of Dafoe because the characters of Charlie and Florence are simply not that interesting.
Good soundtrack of suitable horrific, vaguely electronic, sparse and course tunes by Peter Salett. Dark cinematography by Michael Fimognari (“Ocha Cups for Christmas”)
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Directed by: David Jacobson
Written by: Matthew F. Jones
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Michelle Monaghan and Willem Dafoe
Release Date: April 5, 2013
MPAA: Not rated
Run Time: 93 minutes