Friday 27 December 2013

Split (2012)

Director: Miguel Gonzalez
Star: Seth Gandrud
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.
There's a lot of ambition in the script for Split, written by the film's director, Miguel Gonzalez, who has a habit of making short films with overly generic titles that take forever to track down on IMDb. Out of five titles, three have Roman numerals behind them to distinguish them from others of the same name that were released in the same year. The film he's working on now is the sixth Torn of 2013; at least this was only the second Split of 2012. Sadly its ambition doesn't pan out and it becomes as generic as its name, feeling as schizophrenic as its lead character, Tom Lundi. We figure out that he has at least two distinct personalities pretty quickly, but while the story is presumably all about the fight between them, it never really gels together. The Tom that everyone knows is the boring Tom, an accountant who likes numbers and is good at his job, so routine that it fits that his surname is a day of the week. Yet the other Tom is a more forceful character, one who's apparently blackmailing the mayor, even if he's not sure how.

He starts the film in memorable fashion, with a gunshot wound in his chest and a phone in his hand, so he can talk to the 911 operator and the story can get moving in mysterious fashion. It's a great start to the film and it doesn't hurt that Tom is played by Seth Gandrud, the closest the Arizona film community has to Brad Pitt. I'm not sure how boring we can buy Lundi as being when he's played by Gandrud, but he does seem to be sleepwalking through life, apparently oblivious to his cute wife and his neat house. It's time for an intervention but that doesn't come from work colleague Michael, who wants to take him shooting, it comes from himself, the other personality that decides it wants to change his life. The film's title doesn't just suggest Lundi's split personalities but the split directions that they're taking him. The end, of course, reveals which personality wins and which direction he takes, and that's all good, but it's not that simple. It leaves us with as many questions as it gives us answers.

Gandrud is great here in the tense scenes, one of them feeling like Clint Eastwood playing Jack Palance. Unfortunately he's less good in the everyday scenes, perhaps inevitably because the boring half is, well, the boring half. It's nigh on impossible to play a boring man in an interesting way that doesn't stop him being boring, but it can be done better than Gandrud manages here. It makes us root for the dominant Lundi throughout. Bizarrely, Miah Gonzales is the complete opposite; he's solid in the everyday scenes as Michael, but sorely lacking in the tense ones. Jamie Jurju has little to do as Mrs Lundi and the pair of cops who interrogate Tom couldn't be more inconsequential. And so, with the technical side capable, if never spectacular, it comes down to the story, which deserves credit for its ambition if not its eventual mixed bag of success and failure. At 25 minutes it feels too long, but the script could easily have been expanded to feature length. It just needs a firm direction and it doesn't have one.

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