Friday, January 16, 2009

"A Broken Life": a filmmaker documents a man's last day: a film about filmmaker's ethics?

Sometimes one gets an interesting film by telling the story of an “anti-hero”, but through the eyes of a younger understudy character, who builds the rooting interest.

That is the case with “A Broken Life”, a film by Neil Coombes, from Seven Arts, Card Angel and Parallel Films (97 min, 2008). Tim Sizemore plays Max, a middle aged businessman down and out who hires a young filmmaker Bud (Corey Sevier) to document the last day of his life before he shoots himself.

Much of the first half of the film almost seems like a one-man play, with Max doing the talking. At first, Bud is reluctant to go along with this sick plot, but he feels drawn in. Very early, Max creates a bizarre confrontation with two carjackers when he tries to give away his Mercury but pulls his gun. Bud cans it. Gradually, they begin to bond. Bud finds himself in ethical dilemmas as he follows Max and learns of Max’s wrongdoings, especially after a "home invasion" confrontation with Max’s boss which seems to have resulted in the boss being shot. (Max tells his boss, at gunpoint, something like, "you got rich off our backs" and the boss asks if he is a Commie!) One could say that this parallels the problem of shield laws for journalists. But then Bud is drawn further into Max’s life and learns that he has more personal connection to Max than he had bargained for. (To say exactly what would be a spoiler for this recent indie film.) There is also a backstory about Max's broken marriage, and a pregnancy that he thought had been terminated. The film opens with a brief prologue six months earlier to set up Max's grief. Then, he is unable to tell his wife that he really loves her, and so there are consequences.

Here I’d mention that Corey Sevier, himself 24, has already appeared in “Smallville” and played the part of Josh, the “tempting” student in the very troubling film “Student Seduction” (2003), about how teachers can get set up for false charges. Here, he plays the “good person” (almost like Jamal in “Slumdog”), in fact one of the “best” younger characters in any recent film that I’ve seen. Sevier actually shoots video that appears in the film so in a sense he also doubles as a cameraman, an arrangement that would have raised union or guild questions in some cases.

I could imagine a way to make a film about me that would be more like “A Different Life” and tell it through the eyes of a younger character(s), maybe with some docudrama narration (not done in this film, since Max does most of the talking – but it could have been done that way) – with situations that are critical but not “obviously” life-threatening as they are in this rather brief feature. That’s one thing about screenplays that get bought – they tell you the “crises” have to be clear and immediate. But life is not always like that. There are many shots through Bud's handheld ("dogme") movie camera, with the site lock-in on Max as if he were a mark.

Max talks about becoming a writer, wanting to write a novel -- in a confrontation with this ex-wife she challenges him with whether he has anything to say. He says he is a writer or wordsmith but not a thinker -- a very self-contradictory position.

The film has a definite “end”, which does not comport with Bud’s journalistic objectives. It appears to have been filmed in Toronto (I recognized the park, where the two meet a nemesis character (Ving Rhames) who functions almost like a Shakespeare cobbler, and even the church on the park). The subway scene looked like the Toronto subway with NYC BMT signs superimposed (and Bud barely escapes the worst possible “accident” there).

The film has a deliberate pace, with music by Christopher Dedrick that somehow reminded me of Mahler’s “Das Klagende Lied”, and an atmosphere that at times recalls the work of Krzysztof Kieslowski.

The theatrical distributor, Seven Arts, used to be associated with Warner Brothers (usually for smaller films). I wonder if the brand is being used again since Warner Independent Pictures and Picturehouse were retired.

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