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dir Ariel Vromen
scr Morgan Land, Ariel Vromen
prd Ehud Bleiberg, Ariel Vromen
with Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta, David Schwimmer, Danny A Abeckaser, John Ventimiglia, Ryan O'Nan, McKaley Miller, Megan Sherrill, James Franco, Stephen Dorff
release US 3.May.13, UK 7.Jun.13
12/US Millennium 1h46
In the dark: Ryder and Shannon
VENICE FILM FEST
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
Fiercely introspective filmmaking turns what a standard mob thriller into something much more involving: a compelling true-life drama that makes us sympathise with a killer. And he's not even a particularly nice guy, although as played by Shannon he's utterly mesmerising.
In early-1960s New Jersey, Richie (Shannon) marries the shy Deborah (Ryder) and settles down. She thinks he works as a dubbing artist for Disney cartoons when he's actually part of the mob's porn network. Then local boss Roy (Liotta) gives him a job as a hitman, something Richie is startlingly good at due to his ability to compartmentalise his life. But of course there isn't much job security in this business, so to make a living Richie partners with rival goon Freezy (Evans). When Roy finds out, he's not happy.
The film is expertly constructed with clashes that start small and grow inexorably into significant issues. So by the final act, the tension is almost unbearable, especially as Richie must kill friends and colleagues along the way. He does this with unwavering dispassionate precision, although we can see terrifying cracks in his cool armour when his wife and daughters (Miller and Sherrill) are threatened. Shannon plays this in a remarkable way that never tries to justify Richie's behaviour; it is what it is.
The forces us into a corner: recognising his humanity even when he's being inhumane. Filmmaker Vromen keeps the visuals warm and grainy like a gritty 1970s drama, focussing on emotional reactions rather than superficial plot points. So as the story subtly escalates over two decades, the film is darkly moving and nerve-shreddingly intense. This also offers Ryder the chance to deliver yet another beautifully layered performance. And several other actors break out of type-casting to create vivid characters around the edges.
Of course, we know that Richie can't sustain this double life, so Vromen provides an opening glimpse of his much-older self pondering whether he has any regrets. It's not like the film is trying to humanise a monster; it's merely showing that killers aren't necessarily the snarling representations of evil we usually see on-screen. So while the film gets grim and very nasty, it's also packed with characters and situations we can identify with. Even if we don't want to.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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