I am sure those of you who read my silly reviews know that I support any filmmaker’s first directorial assignment. I was going to see “Hesher” after “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” but I had to save that to see with a friend and I think that movie goes well with Indian food (don’t ask why, there is a great Indian place near the theater). I had to check out Sean Kirkpatrick’s “The Cost of a Soul” (which he also wrote), a film that may be the exact opposite of the word commercial. Amid the mainstream films in the multiplexes, I always look for an independent film whenever I get the chance. It takes the viewer into the shadows and exposes the Philadelphia underworld as seen through the experiences of two war veterans. It is a look at the other side of all the parades, homecoming welcomes and how sometimes, life doesn’t change and for some, it may change only for the worst.
Two Iraq war veterans who‘ve never met, Tommy Donahue and DD Davis (Chris Kerson and Will Blagrove respectively) come home to try and live a quiet life with their families. Tommy comes home to the mother of his sick child, Faith (Judy Jerome) while DD arrives to find his family seemingly in disarray. Tommy finds himself working for an Irish gang led by “Bernie” Burns (Gregg Almquist) once again as an enforcer while DD’s brothers Darnell and James (Nakia Dillard and Daveed Ramsay) have fallen to the lure of drug-dealing and the promise of a better life. Seems like the neighborhood is about to claim what it sees as its own….
Kirkpatrick does seem to have the right intentions and the right mindset when he wrote this film. The director/writer’s first project may have the look and feel that it is a ‘first-time film’, but I have to admit, the man does know how to shoot a depressing, emotional crime drama. The cinematography by Chase Bowman starts off as a black and white feature with certain objects in color. The more you get into the film, the more the image slowly develops a monochromatic hue and a muted sense of color, until you see the images in a washed out color palette. The film does feel very seedy and very gritty, I enjoyed the way he manages to keep the film’s atmosphere and uses color flashes express some emotions. From the film’s starting scene, you know that this is a depressing film and it isn’t going to end well.
The film does have the usual set ups for a crime drama, but there is a bit of a social commentary here. Kirkpatrick does however try to overcome its stereotypes, and tries to present a drama that feels realistic and enthralling. In some ways, he succeeds, the gangsters in the film look quite authentic and they don’t have the staple of ‘cool’ demeanor as presented by mainstream H-wood crime dramas. The film also brings the neighborhood inhabited by our two protagonists as a character in the film. It is presented by the script as something whose progress and growth is hampered by violence and serves as a parallel to the lives of Tommy and DD. The film was filmed as an expression of the citizens’ outrage to the violence in their neighborhood, it is a very low-budget affair that tries to reach our thoughts and the viewers’ understanding.
I liked the way the film was structured, you see the lives of our two main characters in a manner that appears convoluted and it presents a sense of irony as their lives become intertwined with the other. Tommy is stuck in his past and the debts of honor he left behind, while DD is trying to improve his family’s future and way of living. Both are stuck in the ways of their neighborhood, as they try to escape it, the more it seems to cling to them. Tommy is presented as the vicious side of the film; he tries to go straight and the more he gets into his ‘jobs‘ the more comfortable he gets. Tommy does seek a form of atonement in the form of mass cards. DD is the more level-headed side forced to deal with issues not of his doing. He hates violence, and tries to make a brighter future; yet it forces him to be in the middle of the cold world of violence.
Kirkpatrick plays everything with a straight face, there is barely a smile amid its entirety, and he also incorporates a minor symbolism in the screenplay. This is the part where I thought that Kirkpatrick’s overzealousness as a newcomer may have caused him to lose his footing in presenting a realistic crime drama. There is a suitcase ala-”Pulp Fiction” (which was a homage to “Kiss Me Deadly” anyway) but it never felt like a credible part of the story; it was just distracting and I felt that the story took a wrong turn. The details in the characters were set aside to focus on violence and reference-making; while I can understand the violence, I doubted the credibility of the reference making. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised that the performances were pretty strong despite the fact the film was a low budget affair.
Kirkpatrick had the right mindset and the right intentions in the making of this film. It holds a lot of promise, and it is just refreshing to see a first-time director have the energy and guts to try something this seedy and challenging. “The Cost of a Soul” starts off thrilling, then violent and then dramatic, but by the last act, it turns to be a little too overwritten and it misses a necessary realistic follow-through. It became over ridden with twists and turns, which was just too bad, the film had a lot going but it forgot the basics of storytelling; focus and restraint.
Light Recommendation [3+ Out of 5 Stars]
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