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CHARMING BILLY (director/writer: William R. Pace; screenwriter: Douglas Huebner/Thomas R. Rondinella; cinematographer: William Newell; editors: James P. Mann/Thomas R. Rondinella; music: David Barkley; cast: Michael Hayden (Jeremiah William ‘Charming Billy’ Starkman), Sally Murphy (Linda Starkman), Tony Mockus (Grandfather), Chelcie Ross (Raymond Starkman), Bernadette O’Malley (Mary Starkman), Adam Tanguay (10 Year Old Billy), Nancy J. Haggerty (Minnie), Michael Sassone (Arbelle, Video Store owner), Tim Decker (Duane), Cynthia Baker (Laundry Manager), Oksana Fedunyszyn (Laundry Lady); Runtime: 79; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Thomas R. Rondinella/Alexa L. Fogel/Douglas Huebner/Joseph Infantolino; Wellspring; 1999)
“Haunting [!]”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A quality made haunting indie art-house film debut for director-writer William R. Pace (a graduate of NYU’s film program), who chronicles the shooting spree of an average Midwestern young man named Jeremiah William ‘Charming Billy’ Starkman (Michael Hayden). The film opens with Jeremy perched atop a water town overlooking a country field and with a high-powered rifle he’s mowing down innocent people as they exit their vehicles for a reason he can’t articulate. We learn through flashback that he’s just killed his pregnant wife Linda (Sally Murphy) and parents (Chelcie Ross and Bernadette O’Malley). Through further flashbacks, that intercut with the stylized killing spree, we trace his early childhood memories, where he liked to play with the foreign-accented neighborhood laundry lady (Oksana Fedunyszyn) by running in the yard between the clean white sheets as she hung them out to dry. The friendly lady gave him the nickname he loves of Charming Billy, as she sang him that song called Billy Boy. The first-born child named Billy died at the age of one, something that deeply affected Jeremy. The youngster was also troubled by his father’s negativity and verbally abusive way he treated him. Not going to college and being married, Jeremy struggles financially to provide for his family–holding down a job as a laundry driver and as a clerk in a video store. Both jobs serve to embarrass him, as in the laundry job he meets a former schoolmate Duane just as he’s picking up soiled towels in a restaurant toilet and in the video store he loses his cool as he has to deal with an irate customer to defend himself from being incompetent–only to find out later another clerk screwed up and the customer was right. How this seemingly nice guy cracks up, is convincingly presented as a case of the mind snapping due to the cumulative effects of his depressive life. The only one Jeremy felt comfortable being around was his grandfather (Tony Mockus), a big bear of a man with a Santa Claus white beard and a wry smile on his kisser. When grandfather goes down with a debilitating stroke and there’s no one else to talk to, the only way out for him becomes the bad decision to go on a suicidal mission on the water tower.

This original and deeply moving film does its job of letting us know the killer’s thinking as best it could without seeming academic or phony. Michael Hayden does a superb job of bringing sympathy to his character, even when he’s firing away at a child running for his life across the field. Cowriters Douglas Huebner and Thomas R. Rondinella offer a tight script that leaves room for the viewer to form their own opinions on what led to Jeremy’s downfall, especially when others have faced much worse upbringings and came through it just fine.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”