Directed By: Salvatore Stabile
Written By: Salvatore Stabile
Produced By: Mike Caldwell, Jody Allen, Daneiel Edelman
Cast: John Leguizamo, Leonar Varela, Samantha Rose, David Castro
MPAA Rating: NR
Runtime: 96 minutes
Review Date: December 17, 2010
This is one of those films that intends to showcase great actors and utilize them to send an important message: Don’t take anything for granted. Director Salvatore Stabile entirely succeeds at this, using John Leguizamo to his almost limitless potential and simultaneously hits the right moral notes. It’s unfortunate that his screenplay, while certainly raw and real, is just too heartbreaking to be fully enjoyed.
John Leguizamo plays Frank, a boxer whose gloves wore thin a long time ago. He was good enough to be on the cusp, but was never able to breach it. That being said, the man has few skills in other areas and struggles to provide for his family. His wife, Angela (a stunning but high-strung Leonor Varela), and two children, Christina and Justin (Sam Rose and David Castro), are sitting around the table one evening, enjoying sausages and pasta sauce. Immediately preceding this scene, Frank and Angela were discussing their financial plight to obvious excess. Now, as they chomp away, the lights shut down and they must eat by candlelight. While I immediately found this scene to be quite obvious, it quickly changed paths for the better: As the mother and two children sit in stupefied silence, Frank immediately starts to play games with the children. “Throw the food into my mouth”, he implores, and garners laughs from all at the table. It’s a tender scene, and it alleviated my immediate concerns for this film. Temporarily.
This theme of “making the best out of every situation” occurs again and again. It’s as if the entire film is made of short vignettes paired together with subway rides and extended sequences of walking. Each sequence is good, mind you, but there isn’t much to it. The sequence of events truly takes shape the day the family gets evicted. They must relocate to a shelter, but it isn’t long before Frank is eligible for semi-subsidized housing. All he must do is secure a job by 6PM that day, and the place is his.
As I stated above, the film follows Frank and Justin (Angela and Christina wait in the cold, dreary shelter) as they move from one upset to the next. Had the film strayed from this formula, only slightly, I could see myself growing fond of this film. Everything goes wrong for these guys, and though the ending is semi-sweet, it should have been more emotionally resonant. This is one of those films you are supposed to cry at, but I didn’t shed a tear.
Let’s change tunes for a moment. This review has been predominantly negative, but this is by no means a bad film. Rather, it’s a decent film that should have been great. John Leguizamo gives a powerhouse performance that’s truly electrifying. He tells his family that things will be all right, and in his eyes you can see slight inklings of hope, but the black dread in his iris often drowns it out. He plays a man who is truly lost, who loves his family to death and is really struggling with his incapability. Also great is David Castro as his son, completely selling the conflicted kid who hates to hate his father. His relationship with Frank is playful with a dash of seriousness, allowing the two to almost improv off one another. It lends the duo an organic bond.
In all, this is a film worth watching for the performances and the original aspects of the screenplay. It’s just too bad that the film ends the way it does: It’s certainly realistic, but painfully so.
Kyle Kogan is a film critic living in Chicago.