Saturday, November 15, 2008

Turn The River

(This isn’t a proper review of this film - I just sort of jumped in with the first thought I had about it and cobbled together a few other thoughts. Also, I will be spoiling the ending, so if you haven’t seen it yet and want to, stop right here and move on to the next thing.)

I was going along just fine with Turn The River, probably because there is some part of me that identifies with pool halls and bars, those seedy, dimly-lit places where life is lived on the margins and all of the business is transacted with cash and nobody has a last name. I may have been a gangster in a previous life - or there may be the blood of la cosa nostra running in my own veins, I don’t know. (Such are the things one sometimes wonders when one’s forebears were born and raised in North Jersey.)

But anyway...I was zipping along just fine with this one, even if the dialogue was sort of sophomoric and the editing was choppy and there were way too many shots of Quinn (Rip Torn) looking sagely across the room like he knew strange things were afoot in his pool hall but also knew that he wasn’t about to make a move to alter the course of those events. Perhaps writer-director Chris Eigeman knew that his lines of dialogue were coming out flat, try though Famke Janssen and Rip Torn might to make them seem interesting; and perhaps Eigeman tried to use the camera in a more subtle fashion to show knowing glances or impart understanding. I would say that the results are mixed, and I would say further that that is being charitable. This movie appeals to the Bukowski-esque side of me, but that doesn’t mean it’s very good.

And that’s before we even get to the end. The penultimate scene, when the truck comes to rest against the parking light pole, should have been the last scene. It still would have been lame, but it would have been revisionist enough to have been mildly interesting. But no, there’s that last scene - one last shot of Gulley coming to the pool hall - Quinn, undoubtedly rousted from his old digs for aiding and abetting, has a new place - to get a letter from his mom that Quinn has for him.

Ugh. Really? In a lot of ways - sort of - this movie is like Frozen River. Both protagonists commit serious crimes and rationalize their actions by convincing themselves that they are helping their kids. Frozen River succeeds because Melissa Leo, playing the lead, shows the desperation that motivates her actions in her facial expressions, her voice, her body language. Janssen gives it the old college try in Turn The River, but doesn’t even come close to what Leo achieved.

On the whole, I think Eigeman misses the mark with Turn The River, even though I wanted to like it. There is nothing really bad about the movie, but there’s also nothing that’s really excellent, either; it’s a very okay movie that stumbles in the third act. It’s possible, I think, that it could have been more than it is, though there is only one somewhat striking example of a missed opportunity that comes to mind. After Kailey (Janssen) absconds with Gulley, there is a scene with Kailey’s ex-husband and his new wife in which he explains to her what Kailey told him to say - that Kailey would take better care of Gulley than they could. His wife, with phone in hand and about to call the police, asks him if Kailey is right, and then repeats the question when her husband doesn’t answer. You can tell that he almost confesses that Kailey would do a better job taking care of Gulley - and there is a sense of the dramatic tension that might have unfolded if Eigeman had, say, extended the confessional scene between husband and wife and mixed it with scenes of Kailey and Gulley making a successful getaway.

Eigeman and Janssen attended a screening of this film at this year’s Indianapolis International Film Festival and conducted a brief question and answer session after the screening, during which Eigeman said that Janssen had spent a not inconsiderable amount of time learning to play pool for the role. He also noted that all of the shots she made in the movie are shots she made on her own - no special effects required. Okay. One wonders, though, what might have resulted had as much care been taken with the story and the editing as was taken with teaching the lead to shoot pool.

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