Friday 8 May 2015

Duty (2014)

Directors: Rob Burson and Victoria Rincon
Stars: Rob Burson, Aimee DuMars, Sandy Owens and Robbie King
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in 2015. Here's an index to my reviews of 2015 films.
Another flawed thirteen minute Arizona short, Duty has the opposite problem to Fighters Move Forward. That documentary featured too few people saying too few things, so that it never really finds where the real story is. This human interest drama has too many people too quickly focused on where we're going, so that the real story is heavily telegraphed in the first scene. I'm careful to avoid spoilers and know that synopses should only be detailed up to a point; that could be ten minutes in or sixty, but here it's scene one. We're in small town America where the cops are good guys and the sheriff isn't being investigated by the feds, but the first thing we see is Lance stealing money from the evidence locker. IMDb explains that we're 'in the midst of the financial crisis of 2008-2009' and we soon discover that it's dragging this cop down. He can't afford to cover his daughter's meds and the bank is getting ready to foreclose. He's pursuing a few odd avenues to solve his financial problem, but none of them are advisable.

Duty has two names all over its credits, so it would seem safe to see the film as theirs. Rob Burson wrote the script and took the lead role for himself, produced the picture and co-directed it with Victoria Rincon, who also shot and edited the piece. Mostly they do good work. Burson is a decent lead, able to elicit our sympathy even after that opening scene. Lance is a good man, but it isn't just the financial crisis that's causing his problems; it's also his male chauvinist attitude, which we're never quite sure we should read as his alone or endemic to the role he plays in society. His wife is a good woman too; in fact, everyone in the film has our sympathy to at least some degree, even Crazy Willie who acts up at two in the morning and waves his shotgun around. I've seen films where I couldn't care about anyone, as important ones as Gone with the Wind, but I'm not sure I've ever seen one before where I cared about everyone and found that a problem. If these people are all so damn likeable, how come nobody is helping them?
While Burson has the screen time, Aimee DuMars is just as good as his wife, Julie, and so's Sandy Owens as the chief. The acting is strong throughout, except for Lance and Julie's screen kids who are obviously so happy to be in a movie that they can't stop grinning, a problem but a forgiveable one. I like Rincon's editing more than I do her camerawork, but she makes everyone look good. She merely likes to keep her camera handheld, presumably for a grittier feel, but the approach is overdone nowadays and has lost its impact. She finds some strong shots though, especially towards the end of the movie; the very last shot is superbly framed and the one soon before it when Lance handles the point of no return is pristine. The score is another plus, from Rincon's brother, Brendan, meaning that technically this is very capable. The script is clearly the weak link, not because of what it says or where it goes but because it's so inherently predictable, telegraphing every move like this is a pantomime rather than a dark drama.

The first time I watched Duty, at last year's Jerome Indie Film & Music Festival, I felt that the script was a little too simple to boot but, watching afresh, at the Phoenix Film Festival and again here at home to put this review together, I've changed my mind on that front. While this is about a good man finding himself doing bad things for good reasons, it's far more than that too. It's as much a commentary on the macho mindset pervasive in the police force, even in a small town like this one with a capable female boss, and the self-destructive stupidity of those from which they protect us, as it is about the hard times brought to good men and bad by people a long way away and unseen to everyone who matters. Duty is duty to all the characters in this film, but the word means a different thing to each of them and it shapes how they choose their actions. There's a lot of depth here that I didn't see first time through and I wonder how it plays to different people. While there are questions here, I believe we need to find our own answers.

Duty can be watched for free on Vimeo.

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