Sunday, September 04, 2016

AOF ’16: Sole Proprietor

New York is truly a melting pot. You can meet a Russian gangster, a Honduran cartel courier, and a Francophone prostitute without traveling far from your Chinatown safe house. Their businesses might be related, but they are all on their own. Nobody should understand that better than Crowley, a former CIA contractor trying to safely negotiate his golden parachute. Yet, he will be the one who lets himself get fatefully involved in someone else’s drama during the course of Dan Eberle’s Sole Proprietor (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Action on Film Festival.

Crowley thought he would simply cool his heels in the company’s flat until his handler came through with his new papers, but the agency pulls a Columbo. They want him to work one last job before turning him loose. Evidently, a Honduran drug courier died during some hardy partying, but his hosts made it look like a mugging in order to make off with his briefcase full of cash. That’s the theory at least. They will get back to him with the details. Being government bureaucrats, they will work at their own pace, leaving Crowley free to kill time with the lovely Sophie, who knows how to dominate him just the way he likes it, for a price.

Despite his better judgment, Crowley starts to form an attachment to Sophie. He more or less knows she is playing him when she tries to rile him up against the pimp sniffing at her doorstep, but Crowley takes the bait anyone. It turns out he is Misha, the prime suspect in the case of the missing Cartel cash. Unbeknownst to Crowley, Greer the massively crooked cop is also keeping tabs on Misha, but not as part of an official investigation. He needs that cash to pay off his compounding gambling debts.

Eberle (who studied jazz guitar at North Texas, one of the best jazz programs in the country) has a very particular noir aesthetic. Viewers can certainly debate whether it really belongs at AOF, but it works better in this case than in his previous film, Cut to Black. Eberle’s films are moody to a fault and Eberle, who usually does quadruple duty as director, screenwriter, co-producer, and lead actor is a master brooder. He looks like a credible cowboy-contractor and forges some hot kiss-me-kill-me chemistry with femme fatale Alexandra Hellquist. Seductive and sophisticated, she is a real find, who elevates the film with her lethally electric presence.

There is no question, Sole is a slow burner, with the emphasis on slow. However, Eberle also gets lifts from several colorful supporting players, including Rob Richardson as the snarky handler and Jeff Paul as Greer’s mob contact. There is no denying the provocative, slightly icky nature of Crowley and Sophie’s relationship, but it weirdly works in the context of the film. Recommended for patient and mature noir fans, Sole Proprietor screens this Tuesday (9/6) as part of this year’s Action on Film Festival in Monrovia, CA (and also just recently released on iTunes).