(director/writer: Jerry Ciccoritti; screenwriter: Semi Chellas; cinematographer: Narayr Kasper; editors: Nick Rotundo/George Roulston; cast: Catherine O’Hara (Sheena), Stephen Rea (Brian), Sarah Polley (Connie), Joe Pantoliano (Jake Maclean), Martha Burns (Gwen Maclean), Emily Hampshire (Maggie), Alison Pill (Jessica), Leslie Hope (Alice), David Hewlett (Nick), Joel S. Keller (Kevin), Bernard Behrens (Froggie), Fab Filippo (Michael), Callum Keith Rennie (cafe manager); Runtime: 92; First Look Pictures; 1999-Canada)
“This one’s a turkey.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This one’s a turkey. It has a good idea for a suspense thriller, but it is poorly scripted and executed. This fine ensemble cast is stuck in an unwieldy production, where characters have a lost look in their eyes. It’s no wonder, they must realize that all they have to look forward to is a contrived ending.

The Life Before This is a fictional movie that relates to an actual news story in Toronto. The film sets for itself some lofty themes — destiny, fate, mortality — which are never fully explored with any depth, as the story describes the lives of some Toronto citizens 12 hours before a bloody shooting spree in a trendy coffee shop. It has seven inter-meshing stories and an assorted number of characters are used to bring the 12 main people to life. The film opens showing one version of the shootout in the coffee shop but in its concluding version, it shows the same shootout but with different results. In that version, it becomes clear that the shooting is a result of a conflict over not splitting the money after a casino heist. But the main difference between the two versions is, that there are different folks in the cafe who get plugged.

The main characters stiffly play their roles giving this film an amateur look, as they converge on that fatal night at the coffee shop (at least in one version they are there). Catherine O’Hara is a middle-aged lonely-heart spinster working as a bridal gown seamstress, who anguishes about going on a blind date. Stephen Rea is an exterminator who is a depressed over the loss of his daughter in a recent accident. Emily Hampshire is obese and unattractive to men, and is an aspiring actress who has so far disappointed her successful actress mom by working in the coffee shop. Joe Pantoliano is an unscrupulous lawyer, who must pay back the huge sum of money he stole from a client by tomorrow or be charged with a crime. Alison Pill is a schoolgirl with a bright future as violinist, who foolishly gets talked into falsely accusing a teacher of sexual advances by a troubled student. Sarah Polley has a spat with her lawyer boyfriend and is Emily’s co-worker, who is asked by her to change shifts. David Hewlett and his girlfriend Leslie Hope get into a tiff with fellow armed robber Joel S. Keller, that proves fatal to both men.

The film’s strategy is to show how one can change their plans and either avert a catastrophe or run right into it, which is hardly a fresh premise. But if done right this film could have been worth the effort, even if many films have done the same destiny theme before.