Thursday, November 03, 2011

Cops in Queens: The Son of No One

The scariest architecture in the world has been reserved for public housing projects. It is not called Brutalism for nothing. A thirty year-old rookie cop understands that only too well, when he finds himself policing the projects he once lived in. Unfortunately, a secret from the past threatens to derail his life and career in Dito Montiel’s crooked cop drama The Son of No One (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

A Staten Island family man, Jonathan White is not crazy about his new posting. For some reason, he has been transferred to the neighborhood he grew up in. As the audiences sees in flashbacks, he does not have a lot of happy memories from that time. Known as “Milk” because he was the whitest kid in the projects, White largely fended for himself after his police officer father was killed in the line of duty. Det. Charles Stanford tries to look out for him, but he does not do a very good job of it.

As a result, White can only really rely on his friend Vinny Carter, who will eventually help him dispose of a considerable mess. They do not do a very good job of that either, but they figure considering how cheap life is in the projects, no one will care all that much. Indeed, this turns out to be the case, for about two decades. Then suddenly, anonymous letters written to the local Queens paper about murders and cover-ups start rattling the brass, including Stanford, now a deputy commissioner.

Frankly, Son is really two films in one. The film telling young White and Carter’s story in flashbacks is compellingly gritty and tragic, whereas the contemporary Serpico-lite narrative makes almost no sense whatsoever. As near as the audience can tell, White is forced to revisit the old murder inquiry by the very same people trying to keep it a secret. Good strategy there.

In contrast, everything that goes down in 1986 is wretchedly logical. Montiel instills these sequences with a visceral sense of the fear and anxiety experienced by the young kids growing up in the housing complex. Yet, it is the unusually fine work of the young cast, most notably Jake Cherry and Brian Gilbert as White and Carter, respectively, that really distinguishes the 1986 narrative arc.

The only cast member appearing in both time periods, Al Pacino gives his best screen performance in years, perfectly world weary as Stanford. In contrast, Channing Tatum looks rather listless as the thirty-year old White, while the great Juliette Binoche is criminally wasted as the local muckraker, Loren Bridges. Surprisingly, alleged comedian Tracy Morgan is not bad as the adult Carter, though it is by design a rather one-note performance.

When watching Son, one cannot help but wonder if Montiel suffers from some sort of bipolar disorder. Half the film packs a major punch, but the other half is a real head-scratcher. Regardless, all his young actors can take justifiable pride in their work here. It opens tomorrow (11/4) in New York at the Village East.