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Wednesday 26 June 2013

The Face of Innocence (2013)

Director: Robert Garcia
Stars: J P Frydrych, Jonathan Levy Maiuri and Desiree Srinivas
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
This was my second exposure to Jump Ship Productions, local upstarts supreme. Talk about trying to shake up things in a big way: competitions like the IFP film challenges tend to be dominated by a few local production companies who know absolutely what they're doing because they've been doing it for quite some time now and have a whole slew of movies under their belts. Then, out of nowhere, comes Jump Ship, so named because the various members of the team all jumped ship from other local companies to become this new one. Each of their first three shorts was made for an IFP challenge, where it won multiple awards and did well enough to move on to the year's final where Jump Ship dominated the programme with three films out of eight. The Phoenix Film Critics Society voted The Duel the second best IFP film of the year, but Titus is more daring and The Face of Innocence is probably their most accomplished piece.

It's far more ambitious than any of their other films, including the new one, Mr Wallace the Great, because it really plays like a feature film with all the filler cut out and all the emotional outpouring of the most engaging scenes left in. We watch our protagonist, Jacob Szczpynski visibly suffer as he attempts to track down a serial killer called the Cradle Robber to less than no support from the local police department. He has major emotional attachment to the case, given that his sister was the killer's first victim, but the cop in charge, Det DeAngelo, tells him that he's alienating the task force and should quit visiting the station. Needless to say, he continues to investigate, harnessing his skills as a photojournalist to find that crucial clue that everyone else has overlooked. He finds it too, but that just leads to the toughest, most emotional scenes of all, because every scene here aims to outdo the previous one until the inevitably explosive finale.
I found The Face of Innocence accomplished but a little overblown on my first viewing, but after a few further times through, it's sitting very well with me. There are a few flaws in the internal logic, but they're not enough to get too upset about. The acting is certainly overdone at points, but that works when you watch it as the distillation of a feature and mentally fill in all the scenes that were never shot that build up to those moments. The timeframe the film plays out to could be a day or a year as the imaginary feature could easily contain many scenes in which Szczpynski tirelessly pursues his goal and endears himself to us in the process. He needs to own our sympathy, given where he's going as an anti-hero, and I can totally see that happening, especially as his opponent turns into a caricature of Al Pacino. Surely, J P Frydrych's finest moment thus far is the last shot of this film, which is aided by a perfect bit of lighting.

One of the most annoying things that is said far too often about short films is that they should be made into features. Most short films are fine as short films and should stay that way; what fleshes out six minutes isn't likely to expand well to ninety. This one is the epitome of the exception, the short that wouldn't just work at feature length but feels like it's the key moments of a feature cut down to fit the running time needed for a short challenge film. There's more detail, more emotion and more opportunity here than in almost any short I can think of. What's more, the ending would stand up to a longer build. The more I see Titus, the more the ending disappoints; but the more I see The Face of Innocence, the more the ending stands out as a memorable piece of cinema. It's certainly my favourite Jump Ship production thus far, but the way they're going, there ought to be a bunch of new films to challenge it over the next year.

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