Saturday 3 August 2013

Escort Driver (2012)

Director: Travis Mills
Stars: Frank Gonzalez and Jessica Bishop

I got so engrossed in reviewing the excellent science fiction shorts from this year's International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival that I lost track of time and forgot to review a Running Wild film to kick off July. Well, now it's August so I'll make up by reviewing two of them, a brand new short that dominated this year's IFP Beat the Clock 48 hour film challenge last Friday night and an older one. Escort Driver is the latter, a 2012 short that ventures somewhat literally into the dark world of film noir. As the very name of the genre suggests, film noir is all about the dark side of life, something writer/director Travis Mills explores a lot in Running Wild films. Here, as he does often, he appropriates tried and tested film noir themes and techniques to tell a timeless story, but this time out he also mirrors the dark theme in the lighting. It begins and ends at night and appears to have been shot outdoors in natural light; in other words, for a full quarter of the film, we have to struggle to see anything and don't get very far.

The sound is fine, so we hear Frank Gonzalez set the scene with narration. He does a decent job of it, explaining that he's the escort driver of the title, Rudy by name, who works as chauffeur, bodyguard and jack of all trades, a great character for a film noir. What it boils down to is that he drives hookers from john to john, sits in the car and reads science fiction novels while they do their thing. I expected a line from him like, 'It ain't much, but at least it's work.' It didn't ever show up but Jaime did. She's a prostitute who's working through her time of the month, against the express instructions of her boss, because she needs the money. The moral of the story seems to be that ladies of the evening are just as unpredictably crazy as any lady while they're riding the crimson river, as it's colourfully described here; they're merely more dangerous because of the nature of their work. Rudy discovers that as he goes to collect payment; the john is dead on the floor because Jaime took offense to his fetishes.

While the lighting is dismal outside, whether deliberate or not, it's not too much better indoors, as the two argue about what you might expect. I appreciated that Jaime is lit with very red light, to match her lipstick and her trade, but otherwise it's inconsistent. Rudy is shot very strangely, so that we rarely get to see him. Perhaps that's the point, to keep such a shadowy character literally in the shadows, but it doesn't help us as viewers when we see the back of his head more than we do the front. It almost felt like Gonzalez had it firmed up in his contract that we wouldn't ever really get to see him. Surely it's a good thing for Rudy that if neighbours saw him as we do, they'd never be able to give a description to the cops, but it's not as good for Gonzalez. I don't know if Mills deliberately aimed to shoot this film as if metaphorical descriptions were step by step instructions but it doesn't help the end result. Visually it's disappointing and it isn't helped by a very green wall looking rather like a greenscreen goof.

The story is a little better, as the whole thing unfolds fairly enough. There's a nasty touch that doesn't feel entirely warranted, but it does fit the tone and serves up some karma. It's the motion of the story that feels odd, as almost everything is fundamentally static and uncinematic in nature, rendering it an original screenplay that would work better on radio than it does on film. The editor had almost nothing to do here, just cut back and forth between characters at odds with each other and ensure the timing stays in place, which it does. At least the acting is decent, if not particularly outstanding. I found it interesting that I preferred Jessica Bishop's turn as Jaime, but my better half preferred what Gonzalez did as Rudy. I'm not sure why in each instance. Certainly I found what they did with their voices better than what they did with their bodies, but that may not be their fault, as the sound quality was so much better than the visuals. In the end, this is just another chapter in Mills's fascination with film noir.

Escort Driver can be viewed for free on YouTube and Vimeo.

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