I have no clue why Tom Sizemore’s opening monologue is edited the way it is, annoyingly chopped up into slices for no apparent reason, but he’s as magnetic as ever when our attention is on him. He’s Mike Jones, he’s getting drunk and he’s about to get assassinated by a contract killer, Frank Casper.
He dies before the opening credits, so apparently we’re here to watch Frank not Mike. Frank is a mild mannered and well spoken man played by Chris Jai Alex and, after the credits, we follow him into Vinnie Jones’s car where he’s hired to assassinate Sonny ‘Sundown’ Garcia, the biggest cocaine dealer in the United States. After the sequence in which that happens, the first of the six segments into which this picture is broken down, he’s gone too.
Jones is one of the two men who continue throughout the movie. He’s not named until late on and even then it’s just as the suitably anonymous John Doe. He’s the driving force behind this story, but he does it at a distance, through other people. His time and finances appear to be unlimited and he’s serious about how the work needs to be done. What he wants is to exercise his revenge on Garcia, the other key focus of the picture, by taking him down piece by piece: his freedom, his money, his reputation, his loyalty, his love and, eventually, his life. We watch all this happen in reverse order because, of course, there’s a twist to explain why we’re working through such an apparently simple story with such apparent complexity.
I learned a number of things during the first quarter of an hour and they were only underlined as things ran on. Quality actors don’t need quality material to do quality work. Vinnie Jones should never read narration. And Nadeem Soumah is a much better cinematographer than he is a writer or director. There are a whole host of visuals here that look absolutely stunning: they’re well composed and well shot. However, they also serve their own purpose rather than that of the story.
Jones is fine when not narrating, though he spends the entire movie sat in a car in a warehouse, so it’s hardly a stretch for him. Each segment of the picture involves him finding someone, testing them and hiring them to be part of his master plan. Some get more to do than others, but they each have a task. What was surprising, given Soumah’s background in cinematography and obvious flair for gimmickry, was that he didn’t handle each segment in a stylistically different way, instead leaving that task to the actors he hired to play characters for Jones to hire.
Chris Jai Alex kicks things off well, playing a neatly calm counter to Sizemore’s brash target. Jose Rosete is even better as Marcus, a petty street thug hired to kidnap Garcia’s wife. It’s always great to catch new work from this Arizona talent whom Hollywood is keeping busy and it’s especially great to see him in a role he can get his teeth into. The last time I saw him was in a tiny role in the Danny Trejo movie, Bullet, which was almost as bad as the last movie in which I saw Dominique Swain, Nazis at the Center of the Earth. She plays Garcia’s wife, Steph, with a suitably foul mouth. Melissa Mars gets perhaps the most to do of the segment leads, as a continental thief; it’s good to see her again after The Cabining. Jeff Galfer has perhaps the least to do as a private investigator who tracks Steph, which gives Bai Ling prominence as the surprisingly underplayed con artist who follows. Finally there’s Vivica A Fox, who plays her corrupt cop with a slow, knowing presence.
To draw us into why this is happening and why we should care, there’s also a flashback sequence that’s carefully broken up into sections as well so as not to reveal too much until the time is right. It aims to explain why John Doe is so keen on destroying the life of Sonny ‘Sundown’ Garcia but, while it does that from a story perspective well enough, it has some other problems that are hard to get past. For a start, while Nicholas Small and Marco Silvestri are capable enough as younger versions of Vinnie Jones, they don’t look anything like him, making us wonder why they were cast or, perhaps more to the point, why Jones was cast as the older version of them, given that his character was apparently born in the US and grew up on the streets of Mexico before spending two decades in jail. Why precisely none of the many supposedly bright people he hires question his iconic English accent, given this related back story, is surely a major plothole.
I have to admire Nadeem Soumah’s ambition here. His concept is good, though it’s an overly complex one that relies on us being manipulated throughout. His cast are very good, though nobody really gets much opportunity to shine because they’re each only in the film for a short time; the only exception being Michael Walton, who appears throughout as Garcia and does well with a role that clearly doesn’t flow. Visually, Soumah is clearly capable, though I’d question his decision-making ability as a director because, on the basis of this film, he would probably be better served by filling only one of those two roles at a time. I get the feeling that he’d have done a more consistent job shooting the picture if he wasn’t also directing it and vice versa.
In the end, I’d call this an interesting experiment that has a few successes but more failures. The odd ending elevates it a little but also highlights how much that was needed. ~~ Hal C F Astell