Stars: John Henry Whitaker, Gerald Dewey, Fouad Hajji, Armando DuBon Jr, Doris Morgado, Paul Thomas Arnold and London Kim
|This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in 2015. Here's an index to my reviews of 2015 films.|
Technically, we're not where I initially assumed we were after a couple of times through the film. It's just an everyday neighbourhood bar in an unnamed mining town, albeit one with a notably diverse clientele. The man who provides the opening narration, 'Where does nonsense end and wisdom begin?' then walks away from the camera to wait the film out is clearly of Chinese heritage. The barman is a white Vietnam veteran; his doo rag and country music hint at redneck, but his customers are all over the map, as far as class, race and religion. A well-spoken and well-outfitted black businessman chats at the bar with an old friend of Arab descent. Over in a booth, a Hispanic couple chat away in Spanish over food, clearly happy but perhaps also a little worried about the fact that she's very pregnant. And, to stir this melting pot, in walks a big Aryan Brotherhood biker with profanity tattooed on his knuckles and a mighty thirst. When the cast is this diverse, we know there has to be a reason and we know roughly what's coming, right?
The film succeeds for a few reasons. One is that the writing is blistering, leaping around believably from college loans through the Crusades to modern day Bosnia. These characters hurl out whatever comes to mind and the majority of it is as valid on all sides as it is inappropriate to bring up in a bar. The acting is another, because, as much as this is a war of words, we can easily believe it becoming something more. Gerald Dewey, who won Best Actor for the year's IFP challenges for his work in Politano's Flight Fright, is even better here. John Henry Whitaker is note perfect as the biker, successfully avoiding the stereotype of stupidity and violence by infusing his character with intelligence and bitterness both, then letting the latter out slowly and easily like a provocateur who enjoys what he does. Paul Thomas Arnold and Fouad Hajji are just as strong but less obvious in roles that are quieter until, well, they're not. Armando DuBon soon gets his chance to join in and is immediately up to the high standards already set.
I have to add praise for London Kim, the pilot in Flight Fright, who brings the picture home with suitable gravitas, and the other actors who have less to do but nonetheless do it very well indeed: Doris Morgado and Lino Dumont especially. Fortunately the crew doesn't let the side down either, but they mostly keep a lower profile, succeeding not by thrilling us with their mad skills but by proving what mad skills they have by not making their work stand out above the rest of the production. Most notable were the camerawork of Rich Robles and the editing of director Webb Pickersgill, who was also responsible for the visual effects, but everything is strong. I was surprised when this didn't win for best Arizona short, because it seemed to be the obvious choice. Perhaps the judges, along with the audience, found it a little too disturbing to call out with an award. I'm just happy it played and played well and had people talking afterwards. As many actors happily returned for Flight Fright, Politano's next Hollywood film, his future is clearly a strong one.