Thursday, October 22, 2009

[TIFF 2009 Review] Staten Island (International Premiere)

Vantage Point

Written and directed by James DeMonaco, this is one quirky crime caper that tells of 3 individuals in a non-linear fashion, which brings to mind something like at attempt at Pulp Fiction especially with its hilarious inter-titles used as character introductions, breaking up the narrative into a before-and-after a pivotal opening where a mobster violently interrogates a small time crook because the latter had done something terrible to the former's mom.

You know that's plenty of black comedy going for the film with its documentary introduction, which explains in general just what Staten Island is all about in socio-geographic terms, where we're told that it's basically a crime burrough with the highest concentration of gangsters and mob killings, with areas named after famous kill grounds. It set the stage for what's to come as a theme, where it's about failure and the results that stem from such failure.

Vincent D'nofrio plays Parmie, a mafioso type who sets goals constantly to achieve for vanity reasons, such as his world record breaking attempt at being a man capable of holding his breath underwater for 9 minutes. But in fact it's quite a shrewd skill, especially when an assassination attempt proved on hindsight that this is is of value to anyone who knows they're on someone else's hit list. He sets yet another more ambitious plan, and that's to start a bloodbath with rival gangs in order to take control over Staten Island's underworld, a plan that brings about hesitation from his crew. Unfortunately he becomes disillusioned by a keen betrayal, and in an about turn sets another goal which tangents his character off quite a bit, and that's to become a tree hugger.

In another story, there's Ethan Hawke's Sully, a not too bright young man who's obsessed at the end of his working shift to get rid of that stinky smell no thanks to being in the waste business. His wife Maria (Julianne Nicholson) wants to have a baby, and Sully is adamant for an embryonic gene modification program in order to ensure that his kid is born a genius and not succumb to the flaws of his own genes. The price of 50 grand proves to be a stumbling block, until he carries out a hack job of a robbery attempt with his pals, that see him having to flee for his life before the mobsters come knocking.

Then there's possible the best character portrayal of the lot in Seymour Cassel's role as Jasper, an old, deaf man working at the grocer shop where everyone congregates for a brief scene (love that French love toss by the way). He emotes wonders through his facial expression, and with a kind face like that, it only makes you wonder the tremendous amount of pressure and hate at what he's been assisting with, to finally cause him to snap and take matters into his own hands. The violence depicted was shocking, yet superbly executed by the filmmakers in being unflinching, real and brutal, and will likely stick with you for a while after you leave the theatres.

It's not exactly feel good, but Staten Island has its own little charms and quirks at every turn, and it's a fair delight to be amongst the strong competition in the official selection of the Tokyo International Film Festival.

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