In New Orleans, the city is loyal to the Saints, neighborhoods are loyal to their local brass bands, and cops are loyal to the gangsters who first bribed them—at least the semi-honest ones are. Det. Spencer Soleno is one of them. When Old Man Marek asked him to hang around in case of trouble, Soleno faithful obliged. However, neither of them expected this much trouble in Rankin Hickman’s Dark Meridian (trailer here), which screens during the first ever Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema.
At Mr. Marek’s request, Soleno is staking out a warehouse, just in case. In case of what, he asks Marek’s youngest son Tevi when he steps out for a cigarette. The recent college graduate will not say, but the shots fired from inside are answer enough. Much to both men’s shock and regret, they find Tevi’s older brother and a trusted lieutenant dead inside. Soleno and the junior Marek will chase the elusive killer all through the city, because neither wants to face his father without the hitman’s scalp.
Of course, it would help Soreno if he knew why the Mareks had brought the killer to their warehouse in the first place. That story will unfold in flashbacks, but it might take a while, considering the Mareks originally had their doubts whether they were holding the right guy.
Hickman earns a gold star and a trumpet fanfare, because he actually uses flashbacks quite deftly to enhance the mystery of his narrative. Even though he is constantly revealing, he keeps the audience frequently second-guessing their assumptions. There are about a thousand indie crime dramas that completely bungle their timeline hopping for each one like Meridian that gets it right, but when they work, they work.
James Moses Black is another glaringly obvious reason why Meridian works as well as it does. As Soreno, he is all kinds of intense, yet acutely, clay-footedly human. It is a terrific portrayal of a problematic but charismatic lawman that could keep company with Bill Paxton in One False Move and Denzel Washington in Training Day. The deceptively everyday looking Billy Slaughter also helps keep the audience off-balance as Patrick Fox, whoever he might be.