Monday, February 21, 2011

Son of Derivative

"Been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time"
-Led Zeppelin

One of my all all-time favorite giallo films is The Bloodstained Shadow. But it's not everybody's favorite. The big knock on the film is that it is derivative of Argento, Martino and Fulci gialli. It certainly has some of Argento's artistic references, Martino's straightforward storytelling and Fulci's over the top kills, but in the end, the nice hybrid mixing of these elements is what makes it a superior film. As any Tarantino fan can attest, if a director boosts from the best, he can wind up with a pretty good, if not too original, film. But if it is a well-made movie, and delivers its message in an entertaining way, than I think it can be considered a success regardless of how derivative it ultimately is. After all, artists have been inspired by (or stolen from) one another since the dawn of time.

Synopsis - A lonely, unstable, social misfit in the big city attempts to find meaning to his life by helping a victimized under-aged girl. 

No, it's not this guy:

It's this guy:

In the DVD commentary to God's Lonely Man, writer/director Frank von Zerneck Jr. cites as his cinematic influences, Hardcore, Cruising, The Exorcist, Thief and Christiane F - We Children from Bahnhof Zoo. However, he doesn't mention the elephant in the living room, Taxi Driver, until the closing credits, and then only to express a wish he had cast someone from it. God's Lonely Man is not only similar in plot to Taxi Driver, but Michael Wyle, who plays the lead character Ernest Rakman, absolutely channels De Niro's Travis Bickle character throughout the film with nervous ticks, sideways glances and the distinct impression of someone uncomfortable in his own skin. The similarity between the films and protagonists may be off-putting at first, but as the story unfolds their alikeness becomes easier to accept. One reason is von Zerneck's film is intentionally less stylized than Scorcese's with much more of a low key, low lit, suburban look and feel that makes it distinctive. Being shot in a Los Angeles neighborhood, often near dusk or dawn, helps by giving the film an oddly sterile, gray grittiness.

The film really finds its own voice when Ernest meets his version of Iris - Christiane, who is performed with incredible skill by Heather McComb. Rather than playing a waif-ish, wise-beyond-her-years victim, McComb plays Christiane as a giggly, sweet, typical teenage girl who is a little too matter-of-fact about her horrific life. The chemistry between the friendly, outgoing Christiane, and the uptight, near psychotic, Ernest is great and their relationship is quite believable and drives the movie for the last hour in a very interesting direction.

The acting overall is top-notch, especially by the two leads Wyle and McComb who do the bulk of the heavy lifting, and also by several actors who make brief but memorable appearances including Justine Bateman, Wallace Langham, Ginger Lynn Allen, Roxana Zal, Kieran Mulroney, Tom Towles and Paul Dooley. All the actors were quite believable but the latter three were incredibly chilling.

Despite being low-budget, the film was shot quite competently with no glaring errors and a natural lighting scheme that rarely looked artificially bright or too dark to see. The score by James Fearnley is somber, dark and unobtrusive. The main character's voice-over also adds to the atmosphere, but is used with restraint only three or four times throughout the movie.

Like most nihilistic films, God's Lonely Man is not easy to watch. On first seeing the film back in the late 90's I was reminded of Taxi Driver and Hardcore. Those are pretty good films to be reminded of, but aren't easy to watch either. The first time I saw I Stand Alone in 2002, I was reminded of this film. And I wondered if Noe was a von Zerneck fan. 

Score 8/10

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