A Public Ransom (2014)

Theatrical Poster
Genres: Crime, Crime Drama, Film Noir
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Pablo D'Stair Pablo D'Stair
Helen Bonaparte Helen Bonaparte
Goodloe Byron Goodloe Byron
Carlyle Edwards Carlyle Edwards

8.6 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Crispy
Added: August 02, 2014
In recent years, movies by and large have been shifting towards non-stop action, and people have forgotten just how good a dialogue-driven movie can be.

Steven is, how to put this delicately, a worthless piece of shit. An "author" by trade, Steven doesn't actually take the time to write anything, just brainstorms lame ideas for stories with the only friend he has, Rene. While wondering the streets one night after arguing with his wife about his alleged infidelities, he notices a missing child poster on the wall. This one is unlike anything he's seen before however; the picture of the missing girl is a child's crayon drawing. The writing on the poster is likewise in crayon and has the words, "Help Me" misspelled along the top with a phone number underneath. While shooting the shit with Rene, he tells her his new idea for a story: a man sees such a sign, calls the number, and is given a ransom demand. His friend laughs the story off as too unbelievable. After all, why wouldn't you call the police at that point? A little dismayed, Steven goes ahead and actually calls the number, and after a brief conversation, visits a man named Bryant at his house. After Steven tells him about his idea for the story, Bryant reveals that's actually the very situation he's found himself in. Excusing himself after laying out a two week time frame and a two thousand dollar ransom for a young girl, Steven is left wondering if Bryant is serious or just a sick prankster. As he's trying to unravel this mystery, Bryant keeps popping up in his life. From a seemingly chance encounter on the streets to meeting Rene and beginning a relationship with her. Whether or not there's any truth to Bryant's claims, it quickly becomes apparent that he's got major plans for Steven.

Pablo D'Stair certainly used a pronounced aesthetic in his debut film; with it's emphasis on dialogue and monochromatic film, you just can't help but be reminded me of Kevin Smith's Clerks, but don't get it twisted, this isn't just a copycat. There's a lot of little tricks D'Stair uses to give the film a tone all its own. Most of the scenes were shot as a single take from a stationary camera, with the manic Steven constantly being lost in the blur of his cigarette smoke and the glaring halos of the lights in the background. These scenes are strung together with montages of Steven researching various clues that have come to him with seventies-style stoner rock playing in the background (the lackadaisical nature of the music fit the tone of the film very well). A lot of this is a throwback to the German filmmaker, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. While I've never seen any of his movies, I'm definitely intrigued by this style. Now, despite all of my praise, I do have to confess I'm not entirely sure if I really liked that sepia tone. With that said, I'm not saying that it'd be an improvement if he dropped it, because I can't deny that it had a very tangible effect. I just can't decide if a traditional color palette would change things for the better or not.

I'm sure it goes without saying that the entire weight of the movie was on Carlyle Edwards' shoulders. Hell, probably a good half of the movie is spent watching Steven talk on the phone (a clever way of adding characters without adding actors to the salary). Fortunately, he was more than up to the task. For starters, Edwards gave Steven a verbose, deliberate way of speaking that really drives home just how self-centered and pretentious the man is. Also, while initially all of his little quirks annoyed me, I realized they were actually beautifully subtle tell-tale signs to define Steven as a person. The best example stems from all of those phone conversations; he has a habit of halting his speaking, as if he was constantly being talked over by whoever he was on the phone with. It aggravated me at first, until I realized it was a great way to show how weak spirited the man is, despite what his over-stated manner of speaking would have you believe about him.

His two main costars, Helen Bonaparte and Goodloe Byron hold up their end of the bargain just as well. Neither one was award worthy per se, but I enjoyed both their performances. Byron in particular really sold his character, with his nonchalance manner of describing the atrocities he's confessing to is enough to send shivers up your spine, and I especially like how he twisted their conversations to paint Steven as the bad guy. Plus, throughout the whole movie you never do get a clear shot of Bryant's face, which makes him even that much more mysterious. As I mentioned before, Raulo's penchant for a still camera on complete scenes without cuts makes all three of their performances that much more impressive, and yes, earns them a bit of a pass on some of the shakier lines.

A Public Ransom definitely isn't for everyone, but you should know whether or not you like this style well before you start it up. If you are a fan however, it's definitely one of the finer examples, and comes highly recommended. 8/10.
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