Sunday, April 24, 2016

Tribeca ’16: The Fixer

You might think Afghanistan is worlds apart from this Humboldt County-ish community, but they have their similarities, like violently erratic drug growers. However, Osman does not know the lay of this darkly sinister hippy land. Yet, he ought to understand the importance of local knowledge better than anyone in Ian Olds’ The Fixer, which screens today as the best actor award winner at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Osman was a fixer, one of those unsung guides/translators/hand-holders who are indispensable for foreign correspondents. Since hotshot journalist Gabe uncharacteristically sung Osman’ virtues, his original hometown paper agreed to serve as Osman’s immigration sponsor. However, they do not have a job waiting for him, as Gabe had led him to suspect. Some of the town’s unsavory elements are less than welcoming, but his host, Gabe’s sheriff’s deputy mother Gloria could not be more welcoming. In fact, she might be too happy to have him staying with her.

As Osman acclimates himself to the area, he crosses paths with Lindsay, who definitely qualifies as local color. To make up for a less than auspicious first meeting, Lindsay takes Osman under his wing, offering him an unofficial tour of the local drug scene. Unfortunately, Lindsay disappears soon thereafter, having run afoul (again) of Russian “organic farmer” Dmitri Sokurov. Reasserting his journalistic instincts, Osman resolves to save Lindsay or at least bring his killers to justice.

The Fixer is a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde movie, but it represents a quantum improvement from Olds’ last James Franco project, the unwatchable sham, Francophrenia. There is some wit in Fixer and some intriguing noir, as well as erratic tonal shifts and some awkward telegraphing.

Iranian-American actor Dominic Rains is indeed a reasonably defensible choice for the Tribeca acting nod. He balances intelligence and naïveté quite adroitly and develops crackling good screen chemistry with the remarkably diverse ensemble. He even plays off producer James Franco quite well. Frankly, Franco is somewhat effective as the stoner lowlife in his initial, out-of-focus, off-kilter scene, but he clearly looks miscast (presumably by himself) in every subsequently well lit scene.

In contrast, Melissa Leo is uncomfortably real as Gloria, while Rachel Brosnahan brings out surprising dimensions in Sandra, the hipster actress Osman might be getting involved with. However, it is Thomas Jay Ryan (a.k.a. Henry Fool) who really spikes the ball as the mysterious Sokurov.

For what it’s worth, The Fixer is probably the best Franco film since True Story, which is a more impressive distinction if measured in intervening movies rather than years elapsed. It is not perfect, but it is worth checking out to watch actors like Rains, Ryan, and Brosnahan do their thing. Recommended for fans of small town noir, The Fixer screens today (4/24) as an award-winner at the 20016 Tribeca Film Festival and also today during the San Francisco International Film Festival.