A Review by Robert Long II ©2010
Tagline: What Goes Around, Comes Around
Produced by Four-Fingered Films, J65 Productions, Meridian Media and by Brian Andress, Mike Baldwin, Erik Kristopher Myers, Laura Myers, and Dan Schepleng
Cinematography by Jamie Bender
Music by Dan Schepleng
Written and Directed by Erik Kristopher Myers
Starring: Mike Baldwin, Will Haza, Ali Lukowski, Michelle Murad, Taylor Lee Hitaffer, Troy Russell, Frank B. Moorman, Jan-David Soutar, Mark J. Kilbane, George Stover, Leanna Chamish, Gavin Peretti, Brian St. August, Amy Freedman, Jenna St. John, Frank Lama, Lee Doll
IMDB Synopsis: When three very different people (Mike Baldwin, Will Haza, Ali Lukowski) from three completely different worlds begin a deadly game of Russian Roulette, they soon discover that their pasts are a trilogy of overlapping events that have brought them together for one last session of group therapy.
ROULETTE is an excellent, well-crafted film. I caught a sneak peek of this at the Charles Theatre in Baltimore. It was a packed house and everyone in the audience was there to see the movie that was over two years in the making. It was well worth the wait.
The three main characters in this drama are Dean (Mike Baldwin) a landscaper, Kessler (Will Haza) an office worker, and Sunny (Ali Lukowski) a religious zealot. They are all part of the same suicide support group, and are passing the time at Dean’s home drinking hard whiskey and playing a game of pretend Russian Roulette. That is, until Dean pulls out a revolver and suggests that they play for the real thing. This leads to a series of flashbacks that goes into detail about how they ended up in this situation.
At the bottom of it all comes the subject of sexually inadequacy. Dean is about to marry Zoe (Michelle Murad) his best friend – who also happens to be a nymphomaniac. Kessler has become alcoholic since being passed over for a promotion, and harbors a hatred towards his wife’s family. Sunny becomes smitten with someone outside of her religious faith circle. All three story threads end up heading towards disaster.
What sets this apart from most of the independent movies I review is that the screenplay is ROCK SOLID. It does not sacrifice its integrity by straying off into unnecessary tangents. This is a story about three people and the decisions that they make. It is a story of how these decisions effect those around them. At the core of it all is how each of these strangers actually have a cause and effect on one another, and their fates are woven and intertwined with one another without their realizing it. I applaud the first time filmmakers for being able to pull this off cleverly and convincingly.
The performances from the three lead actors are top-notch. Each hit the head of the nail 99.9% of the time and sold me on their characters lock, stock and barrel. Sadly the one thing missing is that there really is no one to root for in the film. Haza’s Kessler got my sympathy, while Baldwin’s Dean made me loathe him. Lukowski’s Sunny ends up a terribly confused mess that you wish you could do something for her. I found myself torn between having sincere sympathy and empathy for the characters of the story, and at the same time wanting to punch their lights out. This can be said about the supporting and secondary characters as well. They all come off very human, if unfortunately somewhat unlikeable. There are two saving graces though. The first being the character of Anna Kessler, portrayed by Taylor Lee Hitaffer. Anna is a woman that has to endure the wrath of her husband’s alcohol abuse, and you feel for her and root for her from the beginning of the film right up to the end. The second being an office worker portrayed by Lee Doll; this is the only instant in the film where a very brief moment of humor is injected into the proceedings.
Technically the film is firing on all cylinders. Erik Kristopher Myers writing and directing style is on-point, Jamie Bender’s cinematography is brilliant and Dan Schepleng’s musical score sets the tone to this drama perfectly. The editing keeps everything flowing smoothly and there are no dead spots. The set ups – whether a tense suspenseful moment or a tender love making scene – are handled with maturity and finesse. The production values are first rate. This has the look, smell and feel of a big time production with none of the dreaded “I shot this with a birthday party camcorder” stench to it.
If I have any suggestions to the filmmakers it would be this. There is “the scene” towards the end that is the talk of the town for anyone that has seen the movie. I suspect that the filmmakers wanted to shock the audience – and feared that if they did not take it to an extreme – it would be less than effective. At the sneak peek this segment certainly made an impression. Some people got up and walked out in disgust, while others thought it was brilliant and biting. It is uncomfortable to watch, but it is not for me to judge, as the scene is critical to the movie. However upon reflection – from a technical standpoint – I would suggest that perhaps they trim some of the duration of the scene. The reason I say this is that the time alloted comes off as a bit excessive compared to the other two stories being told. By trimming a second here and there on that scene I think the pace would play a bit better, and that nothing would be lost from the impact and the meaning of its message. It certainly is unforgettable. The makers of ROULETTE have a tremendous calling card to the industry, and I’d hate to see it hampered by straying a little too close to TROMA-ville here.
The Final Target Count: I have to give ROULETTE 9 out of 10 bullet hits. It is a good film – but be warned: in its current cut it is likely to shock and depress some audience members. ROULETTE is a deep, thought-provoking story that wraps its tentacles around the viewer and refuses to let go well after the movie is over. The best way to describe the genre it belongs to is a drama with thriller elements to it. Whether the filmmakers do or do not do any tweaking to the movie, they have a finished product they can be very proud of. I would be highly surprised if it does not become the darling of many an independent film festival. I look forward to it finding a distribution deal and coming out on DVD and Blu-ray.
To check out the trailer to this incredible independent film (hopefully coming to a film festival near you) click on the poster below.