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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Short Crime Drama "Samaritan": A Challenging Indie

"SAMARITAN"
Length: 5:11
Company: In Retrospect Productions
Website: YouTube Account


DAMNED IF YOU DO . . .

There is nothing easy about making short films.  If you're too enthusiastic, you look amateurish; if you try for a more serious tone and keep it slow, you can be dismissed as being artsy fartsy, or a boring filmmaker.  Certain genres are more forgiving of this than others.  Today's review, "Samaritan", is essentially a playful drama.  It straddles a fine line between silliness and gravity, and for the most part it rides the wave well.

KEEPING PACE

Running a scant five minutes and eleven seconds, "Samaritan" doesn't have any time to waste if it's to tell  story, and writer/director R.D. Leone knows that.  Effective wide and establishing shots linger just long enough to get you to feel the setting and get into the story.

And speaking of setting, the train station just works.  It provides a serious boost in the apparent production value of the film, and provides a suitably gritty backdrop for the questionable goings on. 

LIKE HOMEMADE APPLE PIE

I can't give away much plot detail without spoiling the whole thing, so suffice it to say it's a crime story with a twist.  I saw it coming almost immediately, but then I've seen a lot of films in my day.  Even so, it still works and it provides some levity to the film. 

Zaven Stepanian (billed as "Kiddo" in the film) is a sufficiently wholesome looking child, probably twelve years old or thereabouts, and he is the titular good Samaritan, helping to thwart a mugging-in-progress.  The assailant ("Grifter", played by a gruff looking Alex Denney) takes out his anger on the boy, who then flees.  The grifter follows, and what ensues is a pretty solid chase sequence that is edited to near perfection.  We can't help but like Kiddo -- he's just so damn wholesome and sweet looking -- and we can only imagine how awful it would be if this criminal gets a hold of him. 

THE DRAWBACKS

There isn't a single line of dialogue throughout the entire film, and honestly it's probably for the best that there isn't.  Any spoken words would come off as on-the-nose and obvious.  It does cause a lack of immersion in the world of the film, though, as there's no other sound for the most part, not even music for the most part until Massive Attack's "Angel" gets played randomly in the background.  It works well enough, but it's out of place. 

The acting is also hit or miss.  Wendy Wilkie is "Damsel", and she does what she can with the role, I suppose, although when the train is coming and she checks her watch, it looks overly theatrical.  Kiddo maintains the same facial expression throughout the entire film, even when he's being chased by the mugger.   Alex Denney's grifter grumps around.   Everything is very one dimensional.

CONCLUSION

The shining light through all of this is R.D. Leone's direction.  The story is fairly intricate for a five minute film, but Leone handles the pacing perfectly.  The camera placement is effective, and the editing is spot on.  You're never bored through this flick, and that's something to be said, particularly in this post-MTV entertainment world.

All in all, "Samaritan" is the product of a singular vision that delivers a tongue in cheek crime drama with a little twist at the end.  It's not a bad way to spend five minutes of your time.

Overall Scores:

Writing: 2 / 5.  There are basically three scenes that comprise the film, and there's not a whole lot beyond the build up to the twist, which once again I saw coming from a mile away.  The writing is serviceable, but little more than that.
Directing: 4 / 5.  R.D. Leone puts together a pretty tight presentation of the limited material.  The cameras serve up what we need to see, and they do it with some style.
Editing: 4 / 5.  As good as Leone's direction is, if it wasn't for the super tight editing, that chase scene wouldn't hold half as much tension.  It's just as good as chases in far larger budgeted features.
Sound/Music: 2 / 5.  There's hardly any sound in this film, and barely any music.  Massive Attack's song is functional, but . . . not reflective of what's on screen at all. 
Acting: 2.5 / 5.  None of the characters onscreen are represented by serious actors.  Everything is very amateurish.

Final Grade: 2.9.  "Samaritan" sets out to be an inoffensive, humorous little crime drama, and it succeeds.  There's not a whole lot of substance, but the filmmakers are clearly skilled.  I'd like to see what else they can come up with in the future!

To watch the full length film and to get in touch with In Retrospect Productions, check out producer Christopher Houston's YouTube page here!



Thanks for reading! I'm a screenwriter and script consultant. Most recently, I've worked with LMC Productions and Mad Antz Films in Australia. I helped mold Goodybag Productions' award winning screenplay "The Teacher" and Michael Maguire's feature length script "The Wolfpack", which is still in development.

Check out my blog and let's get in touch!