Tuesday, October 05, 2010

As Good As Dead

In the movies, New York can be a dangerous place for a photojournalist. It is not the terrorism or the street crime he has to worry about, but the rural southern white supremacists hell-bent on revenge. While the actuarial tables might disagree, at least the execution, so to speak, is fairly tight in Jonathan Mossek’s As Good As Dead (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Ethan Belfrage is the sort of scruffy, endearingly immature divorced father Mel Gibson or Tom Hanks might have played fifteen years ago. His daughter rolls her eyes at him when visiting, while his greedy landlord gnashes his teeth at Belfrage defiance of his eviction notice. This is New York, good luck with that. However, Belfrage quickly drops the happy-go-lucky act when three redneck home invaders tie him up and start tooling on him.

Ten years ago, the not-so-right Reverend Kalahan was gunned down in West Virginnie in an apparent act of retribution for a racist mass murder committed by one of his flock. Belfrage’s home invaders, Kalahan’s somewhat younger wife Helen, her son Jake, and her new man Aaron, are convinced he was in on it. They want a confession and the names of his accomplices, which they intend to beat out of him. Naturally, Belfrage professes his innocence as best he can. Thus starts the cat and mouse game.

Though billed as a conflict of ideologies, Erez Mossek and Eve Pomerance’s screenplay wisely concentrates on the hostage-captor drama rather than tiresome red-blue polemics. Of course, there is no denying its white supremacist premise, considering the SS tattoo emblazoned on Aaron’s neck. Yet, it ultimately takes some twists and turns that might make smug New Yorkers a bit uneasy. (That’s a good thing.)

Dead definitely has one thing going for it—a strong villain. Frank Whaley might seem slightly under-sized for the role, but he is all kinds of creepy as the ruthless Aaron. Though never his on-screen match, Cary Elwes is reasonably credible as the hapless Belfrage, nicely handling the late inning curve balls. However, Andie MacDowell seems a bit too genteel as Helen Kalahan, while Brian Cox comes across about as West Virginia as the Royal Family when seen in flashbacks as the late Reverend.

Though not perfect, Dead is an effectively focused little thriller boasting quite a memorable villain. A better film than one might expect, it opens this Friday (10/8) in New York at the Quad Cinema.