(director/writer: Scott Frank; cinematographer: Alar Kivilo; editor: Jill Savitt; music: James Newton Howard; cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Chris Pratt), Jeff Daniels (Lewis), Matthew Goode (Gary Spargo), Greg Dunham (Bone), Carla Gugino (Janet), Bruce McGill (Robert Pratt), Isla Fisher (Luvlee Lemons), Alberta Watson (Barbara Pratt), Alex Borstein (Mrs. Lange), Sergio Di Zio (Deputy Ted) Morgan Kelly (Marty), Aaron Berg (Cork), Carla Gugino (Janet), Laura Vandervoort (Kelly); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Walter Parkes/Laurence Mark/Roger Birnbaum/Gary Barber; Miramax Films; 2007)
“The straightforward routine story has plot holes you can drive a tractor through and a screenplay that’s too clean for the messy story it’s spinning.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Veteran screenwriter Scott Frank (“Get Shorty”/”Minority Report”/” Out of Sight”) in his directorial debut hammers out a derivative neo-noir film from his own screenplay, one that he held a longtime since he could get no buyers for it and finally decided to direct it himself. The crime thriller never gets nailed down mainly because it almost looks like a direct-to video ripoff of better crime thrillers such as Fargo, it lacks an intense and provocative structure, and the simplistic contrived pat twisty conclusion wasn’t convincing or that unpredictable and seemed like lazy screenwriting for a minor B-film.
It’s about the popular high school jock Chris “Slapshot” Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who while out on a double-date on prom night recklessly drives his red sports car convertible, a gift from dad, with his lights out at night to catch a good look at all the fireflies that are swarming in the sky and hits a combine tractor that was abandoned on the road. The two back seat passengers die, his girlfriend Kelly loses a leg and the high school hockey hero has a head injury that leaves him brain-damaged with his bright future coming to a crashing halt. He’s now mentally handicapped, can’t remember important things without writing them on a notepad (reminiscent of Guy Pearce in Memento) and we see him four years after the accident where he works in the rural Kansas bank for farmers, in a suburb just outside of Kansas City, in a dead-end job as the night janitor. The lonely, disillusioned and frustrated Chris falls prey to the sleazy manipulative leader of a group of bank robbers,Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode), a felon loser from his old high school who seduces the guilt-ridden confused young man to be the inside lookout man when the gang robs the small bank. The snakelike Gary also introduces him to his acquaintance, the sexy femme fatale, ex-stripper Luvlee (Isla Fisher), who starts banging our boy–reminding him of the good old days and the good life he was meant for.
Chris, though he’s often disoriented, no longer lives with his wealthy folks, but shares an apartment with the older and protective caustic wisecracking blind telemarketer Lewis (Jeff Daniels), whom he was matched up with in the ‘life skill center’ he attends for rehab.
On the night of the robbery Chris changes his mind, but Gary turns ugly and forces him to go along with the other vicious members of the gang–the shotgun toting Bone (Greg Dunham), getaway driver Marty (Morgan Kelly) and safecracker Cork (Aaron Berg).
The straightforward routine story has plot holes you can drive a tractor through and a screenplay that’s too clean for the messy story it’s spinning. But if you’re to savor anything here, it’s the engagingly sensitive performance of Gordon-Levitt as the damaged soul who can’t get over what he lost. Whatever I think of the film’s failings, Gordon-Levitt’s stellar performance convinced me that he’s a bit of a shit, a lost soul, a regular joe and is suffering from low self-esteem problems which is a handicap thing that should be treated as readily as are his physical injuries.
REVIEWED ON 12/22/2007 GRADE: C+